Bones, balance, muscle: research team demonstrates the power of yoga v osteoporosis

Building bone density is important for all of us, but it’s a fact four out of five people with osteoporosis are women. Hormone changes we experience as we move through menopause are one reason women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis. Having lighter bones is another.

But for everyone, family history, vitamin D levels and life style choices can contribute.

Doctors used to say our ability to build bone mass more or less stopped when we hit menopause, but that’s found to be incorrect.

The good news is you can build bone density at any age – it’s never too late to create change.

Because it’s weight-bearing, yoga has been identified as a great way to strengthen your bones. But it’s also a powerful way to strengthen muscles and improve balance, all of which will improve your wellbeing at any age.

Research published in 2015, which conducted trials with participants diagnosed with osteoporosis or its precursor osteopenia, discovered marked improvements in bone density in 80 per cent of the group.

The average age of those joining the study was 68. Over two years, the participants practiced 12 yoga postures daily, for just 12 minutes.

The research team included Dr Loren Fishman of Columbia University who specialises in rehabilitative medicine and who studied with BKS Iyengar.

Now researchers are keen to conduct more research, to discover whether osteopenia could be avoided in younger people practicing daily.

The 12 postures selected were specifically chosen to impact the spine, hip and femur bone regions. And they all came with modifications to make them highly accessible to trial participants. They were:

  • Tree posture (Vriksasana)
  • Triangle (Trikonasana)
  • Warrior II (Virabhadrasana)
  • Side angle pose (Parsvakonasana)
  • Twisted Triangle (Parivritta Trikonasana)
  • Locust (Salabhasana)
  • Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
  • Supine hand to foot I (Supta Pandangusthasana I)
  • Supine hand to foot II (Supta Pandangusthasana II)
  • Straight-legged twist (Marichyasana II)
  • Bent knee twist (Matsyendrasana)
  • Corpse posture (Savasna).

‘The new research shows that yoga can outweigh the hormonal effects of age,’ Fishman told Yoga Journal.

An added yoga bonus is several of these postures also develop balance, giving practitioners better stability, as well as agility, should they slip or trip as they go about their daily lives off the mat.

In my next blogpost we’ll look at life style shifts and nutrition for healthy bones.