It can start suddenly. You bend down to tie your shoes and feel something lock up, or snap. Everyone tells you it is because you are getting older, but that is not necessarily the truth. Whether you are middle aged, or just out of shape, you may not be stretching enough. Maybe you have spent years at a desk job, or maybe you have found yourself scrolling through Facebook more than usual. Sitting is one of the worst and most common ways to make your body feel older and stiff. So what can we do about it?
As we age, physical activity generally slows down, and we may feel that we need to start running or doing something like we did in our youth, but all exercises are not the same. And not all of them are easy to jump back into without stretching. High impact sports or weightlifting can hurt joints if you are older than 35, and can cause injury if you are nearing 50. What you need is the perfect stretching and toning routine that will be easy on the ligaments and offer you many other benefits and vitality.
Today we will look at one of our favorite practices for mental and physical health, and certainly a staple for many women and men in Southern California. Whether you are aging, or just feel stiff and out of shape, yoga is a wonderful daily practice that you can easily incorporate into your day. Let’s look at the benefits of yoga, and how it can make you feel years younger.
The benefits of yoga for men and women over 40
- Flexibility - Many injuries occur from our bodies not being flexible. As we age our muscles and joints and the connective tissue become tighter, and require gentle stretching and warming before exercise, but yoga incorporates these movements that improve muscle and joint flexibility, and may even help alleviate pain from old injuries through gentle movement. Movements are joined and smooth, as opposed to sharp and sudden, which help us gradually become more flexible without injury.
- Bone Strength – As we age, our levels of bone density may diminish, leading to osteoporosis (or “porous bones”). Bones which lose their density become fragile, which means a slight trip, could cause a broken bone. Yoga includes weight bearing exercises which have been shown to help prevent bone density loss, simply by incorporating yoga into a daily routine.
- Strength – All it takes is a few minutes on the internet to find images of 90 something year old yogis (those that practice yoga) standing on their heads or balancing on one foot, arms to the sky. Positions like this in yoga not only build core strength, (positions like the plank), but increase overall muscle strength. In addition to strength, balance is also improved, which protects us from injuries sustained from falling as we age.
- The heart and soul – It is difficult to find a more perfect exercise than yoga for sharpening the mind, relieving anxiety, and at the same time calming the rhythm of the heart and breathing. How is this accomplished? Well, as we use the breathing practices in yoga, our blood pressure levels, tension releases throughout the body, and since breathing and meditation are a big part of the yoga practice, we become more focused mentally on the here and now. Not dwelling in the past, or worrying about the future, are sure-fire ways to calm the mind.
How to start yoga….and when to finish
Many studies have found that doing yoga is one of the greatest ways to stay young. Not only do you receive the benefits listed above, but your yoga practice can continue long past the age that you would normally have to stop exercising. There are many people practicing yoga until their 80’s or even beyond that. The longer you practice it, the easier it is to continue doing it until you are very old.
It is easy to start practicing yoga. Not only are cities teaming with yoga studios, across the USA yoga classes have popped up at local gyms, and you can even find yoga classes on the computer, TV or DVD. There is a certain benefit to taking a yoga class with others. Other people create an atmosphere of peaceful energy, and a good teacher can help prevent you from doing a pose incorrectly and injuring yourself. On the other hand, if you have a DVD at home, you can squeeze in even 20 minutes of yoga on a day when a class is not available, or when you are too busy to do a full hour. For the best coverage, we suggest doing both! Find a local class that you like, and also get a DVD or find a great YouTube channel. Use care when beginning any exercise program, and seek medical advice if you have any existing health conditions.
What will I need?
If practicing regularly, we strongly recommend getting a yoga mat. This is the only equipment you will need it you go to an outside class. Most yoga studios provide foam blocks and bolsters for use during class. Foam blocks are good to have if you will be doing a DVD at home. They are used to support the body, as needed, during your movements. Yoga clothing does not need to be fancy. Anything that clings to the body, without too much extra fabric, and is stretchy, will do. If you want a nice outfit, yoga clothing is available at many retailers and online. Shoes are not used during yoga practice.
What else can I do at home?
One of the best things about yoga is that it brings your mind back into focus. After a yoga class, your brain will not only be sharper, but it will be focused on “now”. If you are looking for additional ways to feel like this, consider looking into daily meditation, or another spiritual practice like journaling. All of these activities help sill the mind, keep us younger, and make for a better rest at night. Take some time for you and incorporate some yoga stretches into your routine this week!