Scientists have found a new reason to sing yoga’s praises — it helps strengthen your bones. (Photo: Getty Images)
Exciting news for yogis, and inspiration to start a practice if you haven’t. A new, 10-year study on 741 people found that doing yoga every day or every other day improved bone density. The participants were older — the average age when the study started was 68 — and 83 percent of them had osteoporosis or a precursor to osteoporosis.
Here are the poses they were asked to do daily:
Supine hand-to-foot I
Supine hand-to-foot II
Participants followed a DVD and held each pose for 30 seconds. Altogether, the whole routine took just 12 minutes to do.
Researchers took bone density measurements and spine and hip X-rays at the beginning and end of the study. Those who did yoga daily or every other day had improved bone density in the spine and femur. And, while 109 of the participants had had fractures before the study, none of the participants developed fractures from yoga during the study. The results were published in the journal Geriatric Rehabilitation.
“It’s a very big deal,” study co-author and back pain specialist Loren Fishman, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia Medical School, tells Yahoo Health. For study participants who regularly practiced yoga, “the spine got better in 10 years — it’s better than osteoporotic medicine can do,” he says.
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Fishman say he got the idea for the study after a trip to India, where he noticed elderly yoga practitioners who were vegetarians and often malnourished who “never fractured a thing.” “I saw them fall, do various things that you would think would make them fracture, and they didn’t,” he says.
But why yoga? Fishman says the more force you put on a bone, the more it reacts by building the bone — and yoga has the ability to put just enough pressure on the bones without breaking them.
The findings could have big implications for millions of Americans: According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans aged 50 and older are affected by osteoporosis and low bone mass.
While the study was conducted on older patients, Fishman says it definitely applies to younger people as well. Doing some physical activity helps strengthen bones, he says, but yoga seems to help set people up for better bone health in the future — and being a lifelong yoga fan will do you the most favors.
“If you do yoga, you have a strong opportunity to gain bone density,” he says. “And the more you do it, the better your bones will be.”
Interested in trying the DVD used in the study? It’s available for purchase on Sciatica.org.