Exercise is a foundational component of good health and strong bones, but not all exercise is equally beneficial or safe.
Yoga is a form of exercise that consists of moving your body through a series of poses. In today's article, you'll learn whether yoga can help you build stronger bones.
After a comprehensive analysis of yoga for bone health, you'll learn one safe and effective yoga pose that you can try at home today.
Overall Health Benefits Of Yoga (They Also Improve Bone Health)
Yoga is practiced in many different ways in different parts of the world. While some communities treat yoga as a healing and mindfulness practice, it can also be used purely as a form of exercise that includes a focus on breath, physical awareness, and personal customization.1
Yoga has been the subject of extensive scientific study, and researchers have established that the practice has many positive health outcomes. And, as you’ll see below, all of the health benefits of yoga are also bone health enhancers.
Yoga Builds Muscle
Yoga is a great way to build muscle. One study found that participants who completed an eight-week at-home yoga program increased their strength.2 Increased muscle mass is associated with increased bone mass, in part because stronger muscles allow for more force to be applied to bones, further stimulating new bone formation. That's part of the process in which mechanical load triggers new bone development, as described by Wolff's Law.1
Yoga Reduces Stress
Researchers have found that practicing yoga reduces stress. One study followed 24 women who took at three-month intensive yoga course. The results included improved mood, decreased fatigue, lower perceived stress, and a reduction in salivary cortisol levels after yoga classes.3 These impacts can make a big difference for your day to day life and your bone health. Chronic stress damages your bones because of the negative effects of cortisol on bone formation, so reducing stress protects your bones.1
Yoga Improves Sleep
One study found that older people who regularly practiced yoga reported that they had better overall sleep quality, fewer episodes of disturbed sleep, took less time to fall asleep, experienced less daytime dysfunction, required less use of sleep medications, and also felt more rested and energetic in the morning when compared to people who didn't practice yoga.4 Sleep is a critical stage for bone formation, and studies have linked inadequate and low quality sleep to bone loss and fracture.5
Many Yoga Poses Are Weight-Bearing
Weight-bearing exercise places a mechanical load on your bones that stimulates new bone development. This fact, which is at the core of Wolff's Law, is why exercise is essential for reversing osteoporosis. Studies have shown that doing as little as eight to ten minutes of yoga a day can result in increased bone mass6
Yoga Improves Balance And Coordination
Yoga Improves Flexibility
The extensions required in yoga poses loosen the muscles and connective tissues surrounding bones and joints. Having the full range of motion of the joints in the body helps to prevent injury and falls and maintains good joint health.7
Yoga Increases Bone Mineral Density
A study published in 2016 looked directly at the relationship between yoga and bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal women. The 30 participants in the study followed six months of supervised yoga sessions. Comparison of their BMD, as measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) score before and after the six month period found that the women increased their bone mass over the course of the yoga sessions.8 The researchers conclude that:
“Integrated yoga is a safe mode of physical activity which includes weight bearing as well as not weight bearing asanas, Pranayama, and suryanamaskar, all of which helps induce improvement in BMD in postmenopausal osteoporotic females.”8
“Asanas, pranayama, and suryanamaskar” are terms for the poses and controlled breathing that are part of many yoga practices.
Studies have confirmed that yoga has numerous health benefits, all of which also benefit bones. And they are: Improved sleep, increased muscle strength, new bone formation, stress reduction, improved balance, coordination, and flexibility, reduced falls and fractures and increased bone mineral density (BMD)
When To Avoid Certain Yoga Poses
Like all forms of exercise, yoga comes with different risks for different types of bodies. With a little know-how, you can avoid these risks, and get the benefits of yoga without endangering yourself.
Anyone with thoracic kyphosis (a rounding or hunching of the upper back) shouldn't do yoga poses that involve forward folding and twisting, as they may apply too much stress on already weakened vertebrae. Those with severe osteoporosis or previous vertabral fractures should focus on poses that keep the spine neutral and aligned. A neutral spine position doesn't involve bending or twisting of the back. Poses that bend at the knees or the waist, but that allow the back to remain in its natural alignment are good examples.
Risk Of Falling
Because yoga involves both balance and shifting between shapes, there is a risk of losing your balance and falling. Minimize this risk by transitioning between poses slowly and carefully. If a pose challenges your balance, try it by a wall or a chair that you can use to brace yourself.
Pushing Too Hard
Because yoga is individually scalable to your own level of flexibility, strength, and comfort, it is easy to practice in a way that is safe and productive. However, it's also easy to overdo it, pushing too hard, or attempting more difficult poses than you should. Listen to your body and only do what feels comfortable and stable. Avoid aggressive instructors that challenge your safety boundaries or encourage moving too quickly.
There are certain poses that are too risky to consider unless you're a long-time practitioner who has already mastered them. Don't do inversions, (like headstands, shoulder stands, or handstands). Skip backbends or poses that involve a large arch of your back like wheel pose, camel pose, or upward facing dog. Don't do any extreme twists or side bends, as they place too much stress on the vertebrae.
All of these risks are avoidable. Select the poses that don't put you at risk of falling or applying too much stress on your spine or wrists. If you take classes, be sure to communicate with your instructor about your goals and concerns.
There may even be age-specific classes available with instructors who are best equipped to support your needs.
Avoid poses that involve extreme bends and twists of the spine. Don't do inversions, or push yourself beyond your what is comfortable and safely sustainable. Don’t rush to get to the poses, communicate with your instructor if you're in a class, and only do the poses you want to do.
A Yoga Pose To Get You Started
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
This pose is great for beginners and can be done anywhere, anytime. It stretches the upper back and strengthens your feet, ankles, knees, and thighs.
- Stand next to a wall or a chair, so you can hold on if you need to, with feet together and knees soft. While feet should ideally be touching each other, at first, you might want to start with your feet slightly apart, to improve balance.
- Inhale, and with your palms facing each other, raise your arms so they’re parallel to your head at shoulder width. Keep your shoulders relaxed, not lifted toward your head and your elbows straight but not locked.
- Exhale and slowly bend your legs as if you were going to sit in a chair. Bend your legs making sure your knees are not extended past your toes. Lengthen your waist and tuck your tailbone under to prevent excessive arching and protect your lower back.
- Keeping your head aligned with your spine and gazing forward, hold this pose for 30 to 60 seconds, making sure you’re breathing in and out rhythmically.
- Take a breath in and straighten your legs. Then as you place your arms back down to your sides, exhale.
Choose Your Own Path
There are many options for building an exercise routine that works for you, including walking, biking, weight lifting, dance class, yoga, and the bone-targeted movements in Densercise™ – the Save Institute's exercise program.
You can combine Densercise™ with other forms of exercise, and still know that you're getting exactly what's best for your bones. The variety of the program and the flexibility to add other activities- like yoga- helps you stay engaged and committed to building stronger bones.
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