Yoga can help improve stability and balance in women over 65, and help prevent falls, according to a new study.
Researchers of Temple University's Gait Study Centre examined the gait and postural stability of 24 elderly women enrolled in the popular Iygengar Yoga programme.
They found that at the end of the nine-week program, participants had a faster stride, increased flexibility in the lower extremities, improved single-leg stance, and increased balance and confidence in walking.
The study was conducted by Marian Garfinkle, an Iyengar Yoga instructor, and Jinsup Song of Temple. Its findings were presented Friday at the Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society's annual meeting.
Designed by the renowned yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar, the programme used in the study was meant for elderly people with little or no yoga experience.
What is unique about the programme is that it permits the use of props which allows participants to gradually master the poses while building their confidence levels.
Studies have shown that among people above 65, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma, and nearly one-third of older adults suffer from some type of fall each year.
The researchers suggest that improving balance and stability through yoga could help reduce the risk of falling, as these are two areas that are often deficient when a fall occurs.
"We were very impressed at the progress our participants made by the end of the program," said Song.
"Subjects demonstrated improved muscle strength in lower extremities, which helps with stability. There was also a pronounced difference in how pressure was distributed on the bottom of the foot, which helps to maintain balance."
Before she started the program, study participant Maryanne Brown wasn't sure she'd even want to stick with it. "I've never been one for exercise," said the West Philadelphia native. "But I started attending the classes, and I thought, 'Why not?'
Researchers also found that some participants who had unrelated back and knee pain, were pain-free by the end of the study.
"I've had that pain for years," said study participant Maryanne Brown. "And during one session, I heard a 'pop' and was sure I wouldn't be able to get up. But I did, and I felt better than I had in years."
"This program has been amazing," said Brown, who now spends up to six hours a week practicing Iyengar Yoga. "They're really onto something with it. It's made a tremendous difference in my quality of life."
Song noted that this preliminary information would pave the way for a larger study on how Iyengar Yoga affects the function of the foot to improve balance and stability and prevent falls.