Yoga – Does it Benefit Physical Fitness?

The IntroductionYoga Class

Interest in yoga is growing, especially among older adults. But does it positively affect fitness is the question. More importantly, what affect might it have on the various factors of fitness including strength, flexibility, balance, and body composition or endurance capacity? This review critically summarized the current literature to investigate whether physical fitness and function benefits happen through the practice of yoga in older adults. It suggests yoga will benefit balance, flexibility, lower body strengthand weight loss but not aerobic fitness in older adults.

The Research

A comprehensive literature search of a number of research databases yielded 507 studies on the area. Only studies with 544 participants (69.6 ± 6.3 yr, 71% female) were included that met the strict criteria of examining the effects of yoga on fitness factors. The large variability in yoga styles and measurement outcomes made it challenging to interpret results across the studies.

The Results

Studies reported moderate improvements for gait, balance, upper/lower body flexibility, lower body strength, and weight loss. No improvement in aerobic fitness was observed.

The So What?

Yoga may lead to improvements in some components of fitness in older adults who are not masters athletes. I’d be suggesting that masters athletes in regular training may already have gained strength, balance and flexibility through their training. More evidence is needed to determine yoga’s effectiveness as an alternative exercise to promote fitness in older adults, especially in masters athletes who train regularly. However, given it’s well known ability to help relieve stress and this research suggesting (certain styles) may improve flexibility, it may be a useful adjunct to training.

 Roland, K., Jakobi, J. and Jones, G. (2011). Does Yoga Engender Fitness in Older Adults? A Critical Review. Journal of Aging & Physical Activity. 19(1): 62-79.

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