There was a time when I was as flexible as a Gumby doll at the gym. I could stretch my legs in a 3/4 split and touch my nose to the carpet.
Thirty years and four children later, I noticed that my body wasn’t as flexible as it used to be. When my granddaughter asked if I could touch my toes during a game of Twister, I was surprised to find that my fingers only reached my lower calves.
That wasn’t the only change brought on by age; if I sat for too long in my office chair, my muscles became stiff. The constant body aches were concerning, so I scheduled a visit with my physician. She showed me a few stretching exercises and suggested that I try yoga as a remedy for joint pain and stiffness. My symptoms were not uncommon for women my age, and with regular exercise, I could regain much of the flexibility I had lost.
The prospect of yoga intrigued me, but I didn’t have the confidence to join a class. Instead, I found online yoga workouts, and after purchasing an inexpensive mat and a few soft blocks for balance, I began my new exercise regime.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, and for a good reason. It’s an ancient form of stress-relieving exercises that help you become both physically and mentally stronger, with fitness perks that include greater muscle strength, endurance and balance. And it’s especially beneficial to women.
1. It’s good for your heart
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. According to The American Heart Association, it accounts for one in every three female deaths. Studies have shown that yoga minimizes hypertension by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn reduces cardiovascular risk factors.
2. Strengthens bones
The risk of osteoporosis increases in women as they age, due mostly to hormonal changes during the menopause years. A weakening of the bones can lead to debilitating breaks and fractures that affect mobility. Yoga is the perfect solution to increase bone density with its weight-bearing exercises and stretches. This is particularly beneficial to older people who are more susceptible to osteoporosis.
3. Decreases inflammation and arthritis
The impact of the high-intensity cardio we once did in the aerobic classes of the ’80s and ’90s would be too jarring on our knees and hips today. Gentle yoga offers movement without the strain to promote joint flexibility and reduced inflammation. Physicians also recommend yoga as a tool for managing the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia.
4. Reduces anxiety and strengthens the mind
Women are more prone to anxiety and depression than men. Yoga helps treat these symptoms in a healthy, holistic way by teaching specific breathing techniques while working through the poses. The deep inhalations and slow exhalations help reduce stress and strengthen the brain-body connection. It quiets the mind chatter, allowing you to stay focused and energized with a stronger sense of well-being.
5. Improves balance, flexibility, muscle strength and posture
The soft twisting and stretching of yoga improve balance, posture, muscle strength and range of motion. When I first started yoga, I was unable to move my body into the positions recommended by the instructor. But after a few weeks, I could finally touch my toes and maintain my balance on the mat. The planking exercises also helped strengthen my core muscles, making it easier to twist, stretch, and flex without stiffness or pain.
6. Weight loss
Although Yoga doesn’t burn calories as fast as a cardio workout, it does tone muscle mass, which in turn burns calories and helps you lose weight. If you practice yoga regularly, you’ll notice metabolic changes in the body and a decrease in appetite. This comes as no surprise since yoga has been proven to reduce stress and depression (symptoms that can lead to binge-eating). It’s an excellent form of exercise for heightening body positivity and encouraging healthier eating habits.
7. Helps you sleep better
Insomnia is common in women experiencing menopause. Lack of sleep causes fatigue and irritability, but the slow, relaxed breathing techniques of yoga can calm both the mind and body. This will allow you to sleep better at night and feel more energetic during the day.
8. Anti-aging tool
Age-related problems such as loss of flexibility and muscle elasticity normally occur once we reach our 60s. Yoga stretches help keep the body fluid and flexible, but more importantly, its stress-relieving benefits induce an overall sense of feeling younger and healthier.
9. Go at your own pace
Yoga is not a competition, and you should never feel as if you need to be as limber as your teacher. Remember, she is a trained instructor who has most likely been practicing for years. The classes are tailored to different levels such as beginner, intermediate, advanced and gentle yoga for older adults.
If it’s your first yoga class, it’s important to start slow and be aware of your body’s response to each pose. Only do what is comfortable for you, and if a pose is too challenging, you needn’t force the stretch. Stay in a “Resting Child’s Pose” or “Baby Cobra” position until you feel ready to move again.
10. You can do yoga whenever and wherever you want
No matter how busy your schedule may be, there is always time for yoga. If you can’t make it to the gym for an hour-long class, there are plenty of shorter, online classes you can do in the privacy of your home, day or night. And if you travel often, you can still stick to your yoga routine by doing the stretches in a quiet room, even if you don’t have a mat. It’s one of the few exercise routines that allows you the freedom to work out anywhere, anytime, and without equipment or a gym membership.
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It’s never too late to start a yoga regimen since it’s designed for all ages and levels. I didn’t start until I was in my late 50s, and I’ve never felt better about my health.
Now, when my granddaughter asks me to touch my toes, I can bend with ease and join her on the carpet for a round of Twister — one of the greatest yoga rewards of all.