Yoga enthusiasts appreciate yoga for various reasons but most of these reasons come down to the health benefits that yoga can provide. With regular practice, yoga can increase your flexibility and range of motion, decrease anxiety levels, improve your posture, and lead to a greater sense of well-being. Considered a low-impact type of physical exercise, yoga is also a great option for people at a risk of bone fractures. However, proving all these benefits of yoga is hard considering that such studies would require years or decades of research and that not many are willing to invest in such research. However, Dr. Loren M. Fishman, a physiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine has conducted a 10-year study to see if yoga truly can promote bone health.
In 2005, Fishman conducted a small sample pilot study on yoga’s effect on bone health. The study which was published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation included 18 geriatric patients diagnosed with either osteoporosis or osteopenia – both conditions marked by low bone mineral density.
The patients practiced around 10 yoga postures daily. After 2 years, only 11 patients have completed the 2-year protocol while 7 served as controls.
According to the study’s findings, those who practiced yoga regularly had shown significant improvement in the spine and hip bone density. By the end of the study, 5 patients with osteopenia were now classified as having healthy bones while 2 patients with osteoporosis showed greater bone mineral density.
About The Study
Because the previously mentioned study seemed promising despite the sample being small, Fishman decided to conduct a much larger study over a greater time span. The second study which was published this year involved 741 internet-recruited volunteers. Out of the 741 volunteers, 227 had completed the study by doing 12 assigned yoga poses daily or every other day. At the beginning of the study, the average age of the participants was 68 and 83% of the participants had either osteoporosis or osteopenia. Each of the 12 poses was held for around 30 seconds so the whole routine needed only 12 minutes to complete. The poses in question are: “the tree pose, the triangle, warrior II, side-angle, twisted triangle, locust, bridge, supine hand-to-foot I, supine hand-to-foot II, the straight-legged twist, the bent-knee twist, and the corpse pose” says Jane Brody for The New York Times.
What the Study Involved and Findings
The researchers collected data on the participant’s health status at the beginning of the study. They collected bone mineral density measurements, x-ray images of their spines and hips, and blood and urine tests. 10 years later, bone health measurements were taken again and e-mailed to the researchers. Some of the participants had even taken x-rays for the follow-up. According to their findings, improvements were seen in all 227 participants who had completed the study. Most improvements were seen in the spine and thigh bone, and although some improvement was measured in the hips, the researchers claim that it was not statistically significant.
The researchers also claim that while before the study, there were 109 fractures, after the study no fractures occurred due to practicing the yoga postures. Furthermore, the researchers conducted a special study on 18 of the participants that showed that they had better internal support. Although this does not have anything to do with bone mineral density, having a better posture and muscular support reduces a person’s risk of fall and fractures. Since spinal fractures can happen due to poor posture, this means that yoga can provide a protective benefit that drugs cannot provide.
The study did have some limitations, namely a lack of control group and only self-selected volunteers. Nevertheless, the results seem quite promising in regards to osteoporosis treatment and prevention. Because physical activity is as important for the metabolism of healthy bone tissue as diet, encouraging older people to practice yoga is a great way to reduce their chance of bone falls and bone fractures. Yoga is also a safe exercise and injuries from yoga are very rare.
Because a great portion of the population is likely to suffer from osteoporosis, and because medication to treat osteoporosis is both costly and causes uncomfortable side effects, it is a good idea to seek alternative ways to keep your bones healthy and strong. Exercise of any kind was found to be great for the maintenance of bone health.
The reason for this is that bone remodeling is partially controlled by force and pressure. Resistance determines how and where the bones will form. A lack of physical activity could result in frail bones. For older people, exercising can be both challenging and put them at risk of fractures. Yoga, on the other hand, is completely safe and as it turns out, can promote healthy bone remodeling when done consistently.