Guest Blog by
Harry Cline newcaregiver.org
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Everyone accepts achy bones and stiff muscles as an inevitable part of the aging process. But what if you could stave off some of those “attributes” by increasing your flexibility, muscle and core strength, and balance? And what if you didn’t have to hit the gym to powerlift to achieve those results? Well, you can — with yoga!
Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga isn’t an activity reserved for 20- and 30-something women who can twist themselves into human pretzels. Yoga is a practice that can be embraced by people of all ages and abilities. When you choose a style that fits your ability level, you’ll see benefits almost immediately.
Yoga reduces stress and blood pressure, and its controlled breathing reduces unnecessary activity in the nervous system, which helps better manage blood pressure. Yoga’s low-impact, weight-bearing poses slow bones from thinning and reduce the development of osteoporosis. The measured movements also strengthen muscles, especially core muscles, and improve balance, which reduces the chance of falls.
Yoga helps dedicated practitioners who participate at least three days per week to lose weight and shrink inches. Yoga also protects aging joints by increasing the lubrication that surrounds them. Certain poses, when held for increasingly longer periods of time, maintain that joint fluidity and hold arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome at bay.
Adding insult to injury, older people often notice that their mental acuity declines as they age. But a 2016 International Review of Psychiatry study reported that people who regularly practiced yoga relaxation techniques for 30 minutes experienced immediate benefits to brain function and performance. Yoga also enhances well-being through its inherent ability to improve symptoms of depression, ADD/ADHD, and sleep disorders. And on the days when yoga seems like too much of an effort, the simple act of stretching can provide you with many benefits, including reduced stress and a sense of balance between your body and your mind.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is usually closely practiced with yoga. The combination of the two can make a considerable difference both physically and mentally. Some researchers theorize the mindfulness that’s an inherent part of yoga contributes to developing a deeper, stronger willpower that prioritizes wellness over instant gratification.
Meditation at least partially improves age-related memory loss and memory loss in dementia patients, and it helps their caregivers cope better, too. At its most basic level, meditation trains your mind to focus and redirect thoughts. It can increase the length and endurance of your attention span while reversing brain patterns that foster worrying, poor attention, and distraction.
Mindful meditation reduces inflammations caused by stress and its inflammation-promoting chemicals, cytokines. Lower stress levels lead to less anxiety, too. Plus, meditation improves self-image and encourages a more positive life outlook by helping people to better control and redirect or stop negative thoughts in their tracks. Those who use a self-inquiry meditation technique develop stronger understandings of themselves. You can even meditate right at home by designing a space that’s calm, quiet, and relaxing.
Why Caregivers Should Also Practice Yoga
Scientists know that caregivers who experience chronic stress run a higher risk of developing depression. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress; and older caregivers — such as an elderly woman caring for her husband — often suffer deeper physical and psychological effects of stress.
Caregivers who do yoga can greatly benefit from the practice. One study found that a 12-minute-a-day, eight-week yoga program reduced the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins in adults who cared for loved ones suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
It’s also worth noting that yoga and meditation provide considerable benefit to those in addiction recovery. Addiction survivors are always working toward a positive relationship with their physical and spiritual selves as they maintain sobriety. Yoga and meditation foster and strengthen that connection. A yoga and meditation teacher encourages students to focus on what triggers their addictive behaviors and guides them to find healthier ways — sitting quietly, calming the body and mind with breathing exercises — to better tolerate and address feelings and sensations that lead to relapse.
The Relaxation Response
Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing reduce stress and improve nervous system imbalances that result from that stress by activating the relaxation response. Triggered by deep breathing, this calm, relaxed state occurs at the neurobiological level. Deep breathing combined with meditation and yoga alters body processes to shift you biochemically from excitement and tension to deep, calm rest and relaxation.
This type of relaxation provides an array of benefits for the practitioner, and daily practice can refresh bodies, minds, and spirits. It doesn’t take much to get started. Look for a nearby studio or consider trying an online video. Begin with a few minutes a day and you’ll soon notice the considerable advantages of yoga and meditation.
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