Major study to investigate benefits of yoga for older people

Major study to investigate benefits of yoga for older people

Yoga has become something of a health craze in recent decades. It originated in India some 5,000 years ago and is now commonly practiced in leisure centres, health clubs, hospitals and homes all over the UK.

For older people who have questions about how this form of exercise could possibly benefit them, a major new research project being carried out at Northumbria University could soon deliver the answers.

According to the NHS, it's generally accepted that yoga can help to improve strength, flexibility and balance. There is some evidence it can be advantageous for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains, depression and stress.

The health service also notes that people often start yoga in their 70s, and many "say they wish they had started sooner".

Funded by the National Institute of Health Research, the four-year study at Northumbria University will focus on older people who have multiple long-term health conditions, or multimorbidity. Evidence suggests individuals in this category are more likely to experience problems such as limited physical function, lower quality of life and reduced life expectancy, as well as a greater need for support with mental health issues.

Two-thirds of people over the age of 65 in the UK have multimorbidity, with common conditions including diabetes, heart disease, asthma, depression and anxiety.

Individuals living with multiple long-term health conditions are more likely to consult their GP, receive drug prescriptions and be admitted to hospital. Approximately 70 per cent of NHS expenditure is on treatments associated with long-term health problems.

In light of this, Northumbria University stressed that more research is needed to find cost-effective treatments for this patient group.

The key aims of the university's study will be to evaluate the clinical benefits and cost effectiveness of a yoga programme that is specially adapted for older adults with multimorbidity.

Associate professor Gary Tew of Northumbria's Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation will lead the project, in partnership with the University of York and a team of independent yoga consultants.

Almost 600 adults aged 65 and over with multiple long-term health conditions will participate in the study, being randomly assigned to two groups.

Members of the first group will continue with their usual care without additional support, while the second group will receive standard care as well as an invitation to join the British Wheel of Yoga's 12-week Gentle Years Yoga programme. This scheme comprises weekly group-based yoga sessions and encouragement to perform specific exercises at home.

Assessments will be carried out at three, six and 12 months to monitor the participants' quality of life and mental health.

Professor Tew said: "A primary focus will be the effect of the programme on people's overall quality of life. We will also review any changes in their reported levels of depression and anxiety and if they are having fewer falls because of improvements in physical function.

"We'll also be measuring participants' use of healthcare resources, which will allow us to establish the cost-effectiveness of the yoga programme. If these results are positive, they will provide evidence for healthcare commissioners to fund yoga within the NHS."