A colleague recently wrote a post on the latest research about Alzheimer's and dementia. According to a study published a few years ago in Annals of Internal Medicine, healthy people who exercised regularly cut their risk of dementia by 30-40 percent. While the study did not conclude that exercise eliminates the possibility of developing dementia, the findings indicate that physical activity may help delay onset by several years. Suggested activities include aerobics, weight training, walking, swimming and stretching—the last of which can be so much more than simply reaching for your toes...
Inactivity, which is prevalent in old age, contributes to chronic pain, joint stiffness, weakness and depression, and can also cause heart disease and osteoporosis. Seniors generally require a milder form of movement to address the physical decline that accompanies aging.
One of the best activities to combat all of these issues, as far as I’m concerned, is yoga. Yoga improves balance, strength, energy and mental clarity through deep, sustained breathing and a series of gentle standing and seated postures. Practitioners focus on proper spinal alignment, increasing blood circulation, calming the nervous system and helping prevent ailments like arthritis, rheumatism and incontinence. Yoga, which means “union,” incites spiritual inquiry as well as physical exploration. The practice also works wonders in combating physical signs of aging. In an attempt to reduce the anxiety I felt as a stressed out New Yorker before my recent move to San Francisco, I joined a Times Square studio. On my first day, I set my mat down next to a friendly woman who appeared to be around fifty years old. When she arched into a backbend and admitted to being seventy-three, I was absolutely shocked and determined to keep bending and twisting well into my seventies too!
Some pioneers offer chair yoga, allowing even those with physical limitations to reap the benefits of a consistent practice, sans yoga mat. Students report faster recovery from injury, better sleep, improved memory and, in some cases, even a slight height increase from the stretching! Senior yoga classes are growing in popularity, and are now offered in fitness centers, yoga studios, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and in other long-term care settings. In evaluating a potential class, it’s imperative to assess the instructor’s ability to work with seniors. A knowledgeable teacher will always ask about any illnesses or injuries to ensure your safety throughout the practice. The flow between postures should be slow, focusing on proper alignment and strength development. Poses that stretch and strengthen ankles, hips, hamstrings, pectorals and the lower back, without putting unnecessary tension on the wrists, are often ideal for seniors. Whatever class or poses you explore, breathe deeply, work toward releasing tension and remember: every move you make is one step closer to staying the strongest, and most mentally clear, YOU possible!