Yoga could help older people with balance

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Once a week Professor Roberta Shepherd takes a yoga class and then goes for coffee with her like-minded classmates.

A leading pioneer in physiotherapy, Prof Shepherd – who was this month awarded a Queen’s honour (AO) for her service to education and academia – is in her 80s and has been doing yoga for the past 20 years.

Yoga may not be for everyone, but Prof Shepherd thinks it improves her balance and flexibility.

“I think I might be worse off if I hadn’t been going to yoga classes for so long”

Yoga is demonstrated to improve balance and motor control and University of Sydney researchers Associate Professor Anne Tiedemann, Principal Research Fellow, School of Public Health, and Prof Shepherd, are investigating its potential to prevent falls in older adults – a growing issue for an ageing population.

Falling in older age can result in serious injury such as a hip fracture. It’s estimated almost one-in-three adults 60 and over will die within a year of suffering a broken hip.

A study of 235 Australians 60 and older, recently published in journal Public Health Research & Practice, investigated yoga as a potential fall prevention program.

It showed yoga was just as popular as two existing falls prevention programs – Tai Chi and the Otago Exercise Program (OEP). Of the three exercise programs, 82 people (35 per cent) nominated yoga as their program preference, 75 (32 per cent) nominated the OEP and 78 (33 per cent) nominated Tai Chi.

Anything that makes older people more resilient and less likely to fall is very welcome and should be considered an essential health intervention, the study’s lead author Associate Prof Tiedemann said.

Prof Shepherd says there are scientific reasons why yoga has a positive effect on motor control and balance, but it may depend on the type of yoga class people take and the level of balance challenge that is involved.

“The class I go to is run by someone who used to be a ballet dancer and has a very good understanding of movement and I think that makes a big difference,” Prof Shepherd said.

“If you are lying down or sitting for much of the time, it won’t improve your balance, and you have to improve your balance in order to minimise your risk of falling,” she said.

“Anything that is done upright and with your feet on the floor and is challenging to do is likely to have an effect on balance.”

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