Yoga is great for relaxing and strengthening muscles achy and stiff from arthritis. A recent study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle provides another incentive to stretch your muscles on the mats.
Middle-aged people who practiced yoga for as little as 30 minutes a week curbed the weight gain that is oh-so common between ages 45 and 55. Those who began at a normal weight weighed an average of 3 pounds less than their non-practicing counterparts 10 years later. And those who started out overweight lost approximately 5 pounds, instead of packing on the typical gain of 13 pounds among non-exercisers.
Study author Alan R. Kristal, PhD, who himself practices yoga, believes the yoga-weight loss explanation lies not in burned calories but in increased body awareness. “Yoga makes you more mindful of your body and feelings, so you may also become more aware and sensitive to when you’ve eaten enough,” he says. Kristal also notes that many people eat for reasons other than hunger, including depression and anxiety. With yoga, he says, you become more focused and may be better able to recognize sadness as sadness, not hunger.
This weight-loss and yoga study is great news for people with arthritis. Less weight means less stress on joints affected by arthritis, says Kelly Sems, MD, a rheumatologist at Arthritis Health, a center for arthritis care and yoga therapy in Scottsdale, Ariz. But it’s not just weight loss that makes yoga such an appealing option for those with arthritis, says Dr. Sems. Yoga relieves stress, a trigger for pain. Done in a group, it provides social interaction, which can decrease depression that may accompany a chronic condition. And yoga also teaches a certain tolerance for discomfort, says Kristal, not a bad discipline for those in chronic pain.
Perhaps most important, people at any fitness level can practice yoga. “Some of our arthritis patients who can’t get down on a mat begin by doing yoga poses in a chair,” says Dr. Sems. She suggests no one practice during an acute flare, and everyone should learn limits about when to decrease intensity. “If you hurt more than two hours later or the next day, you’ve done too much,” she says.
Try yoga for weight loss, and you’ll likely see even more benefits than a smaller waistline.