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Yoga helping the elderly from falling

September 15, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
It is known for putting body, mind and spirit into balance. Now, researchers say one form of yoga may help prevent the elderly from taking a fall. Mary-Ann Brown hoped yoga would relieve pain in her hips and back. After several months of regular classes, this senior found an added bonus -- she's steadier on her feet.

"Now, I'm feeling much more confident especially walking down steps," said Brown.

Balance is crucial for the elderly. One in three people over age 65 fall every year. About 15 thousand seniors die from fall-related injuries.

Researchers at Temple University's School of Podiatric Medicine examined 24 elderly women enrolled in a yoga program.

They measured each participant on a special runway equipped with a pressure platform and force plate. The Gait Lab precisely records foot and leg movement.

The women participated in twice weekly classes of Iyengar yoga -- a class that uses chairs and other props for body placement. After nine weeks, there were significant changes.

"People had greater range of motion of their lower extremities," said Jinsup Song, D.P.M., Ph.D.

Participants walked faster and had longer strides. Researchers also noted a change in weight distribution on the womens' feet -- one that was better for balance. All changes that could offset the loss of coordination as people age.

Researchers also found participants stood about one centimeter taller after taking part in the yoga classes.

They believe the findings would also help men. They only used women in the study because they are more likely to suffer fall injuries. Longer follow-up studies are needed to confirm their findings.

Web Extra Information: Yoga prevents falls?

BACKGROUND:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury death for people ages 65 and older. Among seniors, falls are the underlying cause of a large proportion of fatal traumatic brain injuries. Between 1989 and 1998, the fall-induced traumatic brain injury death rate in people ages 80 and older increased by 60 percent.

Older adults who have fallen previously or who stumble frequently are two to three times more likely to fall within the next year. At least 95 percent of hip fractures among older adults are caused by falls, and fall-related death rates and hip fracture hospitalization rates are on the rise.

RISK FACTORS:

Certain risk factors may increase your chances of falling. These include:

  • Being female
  • Being white
  • Having had a previous fall
  • Having lower body weakness or other physical limitations
  • Having vision problems or having more than one chronic disease
  • Wearing shoes with thick, soft soles
  • Taking more than four medications or using psychoactive medications
  • Being cognitively impaired

CAN YOGA HELP?

Researchers from the School of Podiatric Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia examined the gait and postural stability of 24 elderly females who were enrolled in an Iyengar yoga program specifically designed for people over age 65. Iyengar yoga is a specific form of the exercise that uses chairs and other props for body placement.

At the end of the nine-week program, participants had a faster stride, increased flexibility in the lower extremities and an improved single-leg stance. The women also reported an increase in confidence in walking and balance.

Experts also noticed a pronounced difference in how pressure was distributed on the bottom of the foot, which helps maintain balance. Jinsup Song, D.P.M., Ph.D., Director of the Gait Study Center at Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, says, "People are gaining more confidence as they stand and walk at the end of the yoga intervention. People are more aware of their body posture. It [yoga] opens up a whole range of treatment options we didn't think we had before."

Researchers say this preliminary study will pave the way for a larger study on how yoga may affect the function of the foot to improve balance and stability, and prevent falls.

 

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