It often seems like yoga is taking over the world. Just try to walk down a street today in any urban center without seeing at least two yoga studios and a dozen pony-tailed practitioners toting those omnipresent rolled-up yoga mats. Though yoga has certainly seen a rise in mainstream popularity over the past decade or so, by no means does that mandate that it’s a millennial’s prerogative to keep a healthy mental and physical balance.
Yoga’s rise is one that accompanies an overall rise in attention paid toward balancing physical and mental health. A 2016 Yoga Journal study found that there are over 36 million yoga practitioners in the United States— 38% of which are over the age of 50. This is especially significant because older persons are at a higher risk of developing mental disorders, neurological disorders or substance use problems as well as other health conditions such as diabetes, hearing loss and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, as we age, we are more likely to experience several conditions simultaneously.
Between this year and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double in size, from 12% to about 22%. Presently, the focus of wellness for older adults predominantly focuses on physical health, but there are very real reasons why mental wellness should be considered as well. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder. Neuropsychiatric disorders among the older adults account for 6.6% of the total disability (DALYs) for this age group
The relationship between mental and physical health has been scientifically proven to be a strong one—they are fundamentally linked. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that nowhere is this link more explicit than in regard to the reciprocal nature of mental conditions and chronic physical conditions. Just as those with serious mental health conditions are at high risk of experiencing chronic physical disorders, so are people with chronic physical disorders at high risk of developing poor mental health.
Professor David Goldberg of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK, states that the rate of depression in patients with a chronic disease is almost three times higher than normal. About 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 68% have at least two. Depression in older adults is fairly common, and the suicide rate among those 65+ in the U.S. is far higher than average, at about 20% (though they currently only make up 12% of the population).
Dr. Goldberg suggests effective treatment can decrease disability, prolong survival and increase quality of life, and that treatment should consist of giving “the least intrusive, most effective intervention first.” Less severe mental conditions may be most effectively treated solely by lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, more sleep, and moderate exercise, particularly exercise that includes breathing and meditation techniques, such as yoga.
Yoga in particular has been proven to aid in many of the physical conditions common in persons 55+, including Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and heart conditions such as high blood pressure. In fact, the link between yoga and heart health has gained so much acceptance that the practice is part of the Medicare-recognized Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease.
Starting a new health and wellness routine at an older age can be intimidating. My aunt has called yoga a “young person’s game,” but experts agree it is anything but! Keeping a healthy balance between your mental and physical health is crucial, at any age.
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“Chronic Disease Management in Seniors.” NCOA Chronic Aging. National Council on Aging, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
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“Connection Between Mental and Physical Health – Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division.” Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario Division, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
“Depression In Older Adults: More Facts.” Mental Health America, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
“Mental Health and Older Adults.” World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
“What Is the Purpose of Yoga in the Ornish Program?” Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease, 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.