Yoga has become one of the most popular physical and mental fitness activities in the United States, with a reported 20 million + Americans participating in the practice. More and more aging persons are taking to the mat and getting involved in yoga classes offered within their communities. Medical research reports indicate that yoga helps to improve flexibility, increase strength, alleviate stress, reduce lower back pain, reduce the risk of falling, and even improves memory. A question posed, however, is whether yoga is safe for aging persons with arthritis, since yoga involves stretching joints and with people who suffer from arthritis, they are experiencing pain in their joints.
Experts say that although those suffering from arthritis are experiencing pain in their joints, the stretching of those joints is one of the best ways to manage the pain and stiffness of arthritis. To analyze whether yoga is specifically beneficial for those with arthritis, a research team from John Hopkins Medicine conducted a large study on the subject.
Dr. Clifton O. Bingham, Director of Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, says, “It was watching what happened with my patients and the changes in their lives as a result of practicing yoga that got me involved in the first place.” Co-researcher Dr. Susan J. Bartlett adds, “There’s a real surge of interest in yoga as a complementary therapy, with one in 10 people in the U.S. now practicing yoga to improve their health and fitness. Yoga may be especially well-suited to people with arthritis because it combines physical activity with potent stress management and relaxation techniques, and focuses on respecting limitations that can change from day to day.”
The study involved analysis of a group of people with two common types of arthritis, knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. One half of the group took part in an eight-week yoga program that was especially geared towards people with arthritis, and at the end of the assessment period, researches examined the physical and mental well-being of the study participants. The results indicate that those assigned to the yoga program experienced 20 percent less pain, an increase in energy levels, and improved mood. The group that participated in the yoga program also reported more ease at completing every day tasks and a slight increase in walking speed, and these effects were reported to have lasted for several months after the completion of the study.
Dr. Bingham suggests, “People with arthritis who are considering yoga should talk with their doctors about which specific joints are of concern, and about modifications to poses. Find a teacher who asks the right questions about limitations and works closely with you as an individual. Start with gentle yoga classes. Practice acceptance of where you are and what your body can do on any given day.” The full study was published in the Journal of Rheumatology.