Gentle yoga exercises can cut the risk of painful falls in old age, say, scientists.
Only two months of classes improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility, making falls and fractures less likely.
Women who took part in the programme of exercises, which was designed explicitly for over-65s, also felt more confident and upbeat.
Researcher Dr Jinsup Song said: “The bottom line is, people, want to stay active as long as possible.
“This can help elderly women maintain their mobility and independence.” Falls are one of the leading causes of death in the over-75s, with studies showing half of the older women die within two years of a fall.
Dr Song of Temple University in Philadelphia looked at how a nine-week course of yoga affected the posture of a group of elderly women. The programme’s combination of breathing exercises, meditation and physical postures had been tailored to the needs of pensioners with little or no experience of the ancient Indian art.
The women’s walking speed, strength, balance, flexibility and confidence had all improved by the end of the course, a U.S. conference heard (FRI). Dr Song said: “We are very impressed at the progress our participants made.
“Subjects demonstrated improved muscle strength, which helps with stability.
“There was also a pronounced difference in how pressure was distributed on the bottom of the foot, which helps to maintain balance.” “In the past, similar studies have been done that look at gait and balanced movement in elderly females using a more aggressive form of yoga.
“For this study, we worked to create a very basic regimen that taught participants proper ways to breathe, stand and pose.” Maryanne Brown, a yoga novice from Philadelphia, said: “I’ve never been one for exercise. But I started attending the classes, and I thought, ‘Why not?'”.
“I really did want to make an effort to get healthy, so I kept at it. I feel more centred now. I have more confidence when I walk, and I can walk further for longer periods. “This programme has been amazing. It’s made a tremendous difference in my quality of life.”
Dr Song said: “Throughout the programme, participants consistently noted they had a better outlook on their day-to-day lives. “The class gave them something to look forward to; they found it engaging and said that if they couldn’t attend a class, they definitely missed it.”
Research released last month showed that women’s bodies find it harder than men’s to replace muscle lost naturally through age – raising their risk of falls and fractures. It is thought the difference is down to sex hormones, with the sharp fall in oestrogen levels after menopause making it harder for women to maintain their muscle mass.
Women also tend to carry less muscle and more fat than men – meaning their body has less core strength to fall back on as they get older. Muscle-building advice includes eating protein-rich foods such as eggs, fish, chicken and lean red meat and regular ‘resistance exercise’, such as weightlifting.