Did you know that after 50, longevity is only about 30 percent genes? The other 70 percent is related to lifestyle—how we connect to and care for our bodies; how, where, and with whom we spend our time; and how well we feel our lives are going. So what kinds of lifestyle choices will help assure a long lifespan and a long health span? Two proven examples of healthy choices are creating and preserving positive social ties and continuously learning new things.
But as important as these habits are, the first thing a young woman should do after turning 50 or 60 or 70 is start or recommit to an exercise practice. Not a burnout workout, but a gentle program that feels right today and will continue to offer benefits into the future. Why is this so important? A rapidly growing body of research now shows that sensible, gentle exercise, done regularly and frequently, actually slows the biological aging process by lengthening the lifespans of our cells. Amazing! Within us, we have a fountain of youth; it’s just a matter of tapping it.
Which bring us to yoga. Not the hot kind, not the pretzel kind, not the spandex kind. Instead, we need a body-respecting, age-appropriate practice that accommodates our changing physical realities while increasing and preserving our mobility, thus lengthening our health span. Because yoga is a low-impact, easy-to-learn form of exercise, it can welcome us at any age and support us through the ages of our lives. Unlike many traditional forms of exercise, yoga is holistic, uniting the body, the breath, and the mind. That’s why it helps reduce stress and relieve anxiety.
And there is more. Not only does gentle yoga help slow the aging process, it also helps us look and feel young. Here are three ways it does that, along with three simple yoga poses you can try right now:
Yoga teaches us healthy posture.
It helps us shed unhealthy postural habits that have built up over our lifetimes, such as rounding forward from our shoulders and carrying our heads in front of our shoulders rather than above them. Tall, upright posture means that our bones are stacked in their most natural alignment—our knees over our ankles, our hips over our knees, our shoulders over our hips, and our ears over our shoulders. This healthy skeletal alignment allows us to carry ourselves with confidence, helps prevent falls, and conveys vitality, openness, and strength.
Try Yoga Mountain Pose
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Make sure the outsides of your feet are parallel to each other. Don’t turn your toes out, and don’t stand pigeon-toed.
- Stack your knees over your ankles so that they, too, are hip-width apart.
- Lift through your thighs so that you can feel them getting firm. Now, bring the tops of your thighs slightly back so that your hips stack over your knees.
- Gently lift your chest and bring your shoulders slightly back so that they stack over your hips.
- Stack your ears over your shoulders.
- Take five natural breaths as you settle into this alert, but not tense, way of standing.
Yoga makes us stronger.
Strong core muscles—the ones that wrap our middles—are critical to staying mobile and independent as we age. Why? Here are three reasons. First, strong core muscles help minimize the post-menopausal expansion of our waists. Second, strong core muscles provide a firm wall to encase our internal organs so that they stay in place and continue to function well. Finally, strong core muscles stabilize us, allowing us to rise from a chair, get up from the floor, and stay balanced when we change body positions.
Try Yoga Plank Pose
- Lower to your hands and knees, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Walk your knees back so that the front of your body makes one long line from your knees to your throat. Make sure that your shoulders are still stacked over your wrists. If they aren’t, move them forward.
- Lift your knees and hips off the ground, keeping the front of your body long and straight. Press your belly button in toward your spine, firming and strengthening your abdomen. This is the heart of the pose.
- Breathe naturally as you hold your plank for two or three breaths.
- Release the pose by lowering your knees to the ground, walking them forward, and rising slowly and mindfully.
Yoga connects us to our bodies.
Too often, we react to aging- or health-related changes by disconnecting from our physical selves, but yoga brings us back into harmony with our bodies. This allows us to feel confident about our physical appearance and our physical abilities as we age. Demonstrating our love for our bodies through holistic, embodied practices like yoga elevates our well-being, and well-being—feeling content and satisfied with life—is strongly correlated with healthy longevity. In fact, experts now feel that in the second half of life, well-being is a better measure of overall health than the absence of disease.
Try Savasana, the Yoga Relaxation Pose
- Lie on your back, either on a yoga mat or on your bed. Put a pillow or folded towel under your neck and head for support if that is most comfortable.
- Let your legs gently splay apart. Widen your arms enough so that you feel comfortable with your palms facing up.
- Close your eyes and breathe naturally, letting your entire body relax. Let your mind clear out. If it wanders, just guide it to a pleasant, relaxing place.
- Relax in Savasana for at least two minutes or as long as you feel comfortable lying still. When you’re ready, gently open your eyes and rise to a seated position.
Not only do we each have a biological fountain of youth that we can activate through exercise, we also have a psychological one. We are more likely to think of ourselves as young if our bodies are working well and our minds are sending supportive, optimistic messages to our bodies. Luckily, gentle yoga allows us to do both beautifully.