Yoga helps balance out older Australians

Older Australians can improve their balance and mobility with yoga, as reported in a study of Australian participants aged between 59 and 87.

The George Institute study showed significant improvements following a 12 week program of “Iyengar” yoga: a branch of the popular Hatha yoga which focuses on balance, precision and alignment. 

Dr Anne Tiedemann from The George Institute and The University of Sydney said the study had confirmed suspicions that yoga wasn’t just an activity for the young.

“The study unearthed encouraging results, and something we had long suspected would be the case – that yoga is beneficial to people of all ages, not just supple young people,” said Dr Tiedemann.

“It is pleasing to find that older Australians too can improve their balance and mobility which may reduce their risk of falls, and therefore injury, by practising this yoga style.”

The 12 week program, involving 54 participants, was designed by an Iyengar-certified yoga instructor to increase the challenge over time.

Class sizes ranged from 12 to 15 people and lasted for one hour per session. Participants were also encouraged to practise their poses for 10 to 20 minutes two days a week at home.

The yoga poses were introduced with upper limb support where required, such as using walls or chairs to assist balance, while the ultimate goal by the conclusion of the 12 weeks was for the poses to be completed without support.

Dr Tiedemann said the results were very promising and warranted further research.

“This trial demonstrates the balance and mobility-related benefits and feasibility of Iyengar yoga for older people, and the need for further investigation into yoga for preventing falls,” she said. 

The results showed that the yoga group significantly improved on standing balance, a sit-to-stand test, 4 metre walk, and one-legged stand with eyes closed. Older people who perform well on these balance and mobility tests are about half as likely to fall as people with poor performance.

Falls for older Australians are a common occurrence, with the Ambulance Service of New South Wales attending approximately 500,000 fall-related call outs for older Australians each year.

Iyengar yoga is widely accessible across Australia, with 32 schools in and around Sydney and 15 schools dotted around metro Melbourne.

The study was published in the July 2013 issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences

Dr Tiedemann is currently looking for people aged 60 years and over to take part in a short survey of their perceptions of yoga-based exercise. If you would like to take part please contact her on (02) 9657 0393 or