I’m sure we all know of an elderly man or woman who has fallen and broken a hip. This is a painful and often traumatic experience requiring surgery, rest, and recovery time. It can take several months of using a cane or walker to regain mobility. This can be quite demoralizing to someone in their later years, who may already be struggling to retain their independence. Generally hip and other bone fractures in the elderly are due to osteoporosis, or the loss of bone mass. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that one out of two women and one out of every four men over 50 will suffer a fracture related to osteoporosis. Women lose the most bone during menopause and in the first few years after its onset. Men are somewhat less prone to it (though certainly not exempt) because their bones are generally stronger to begin with.
One way to prevent or slow the loss of bone is through weight-bearing exercise. But not all types of weight-bearing exercise are equal. In fact, in later years, we need to be careful about how we exercise. Jogging, aerobics, and other high-impact exercise can be risky and may lead to osteoarthritis. Yoga asanas, on the other hand, can be practiced in a gentle manner with great benefit. By requiring our muscles to work against gravity, we put stress on the bones, stimulating them to produce more cells and slowing bone loss.
Standing and balancing poses are generally very good in this regard. Triangle Pose and its variations, the Warrior poses, Summit Pose (also called Downward Facing Dog) are all helpful. If you have trouble balancing in Triangle or Warrior 2, stay safe by doing them with your back against a wall. Some floor poses are good too, like Cobra, Locust, and Bridge, which help strengthen the spine. Try our featured asana this week, Warrior 1.
A word of caution: Consult your doctor to make sure that yoga asanas are a good option for you, especially if you have significant bone loss. In this case, find out which specific movements would be beneficial or if there are any you should avoid.
Just remember, for overall health as well as strong bones, it’s best to practice yoga asanas regularly. A good diet is also essential. Make sure you eat plenty of calcium- and nutrient-rich foods. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, so spend a few minutes in the sun each day—or take a vitamin D supplement.