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Yoga Program May Help Prevent Falls in Elderly

9-week course for women over 65 showed increased flexibility, balance and stance

FRIDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- A specific type of yoga may help improve stability and balance in women over age 65, possibly helping them to avoid falls, a preliminary study reports.

After nine weeks of participating in an Iyengar yoga program designed for senior citizens, 24 elderly females had a faster stride, an increased flexibility in the lower extremities, an improved single-leg stance and increased confidence in walking and balance, according to the findings of researchers at Temple University's Gait Study Center.

The researchers, scheduled to present their findings Friday at the Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society's annual meeting in Richmond, Va., suggested that improving balance and stability through yoga could help reduce the risk of falling.

"We were very impressed at the progress our participants made by the end of the program," principal investigator Dr. Jinsup Song, director of the Gait Study Center, said in a prepared statement. "Subjects demonstrated improved muscle strength in lower extremities, which helps with stability. There was also a pronounced difference in how pressure was distributed on the bottom of the foot, which helps to maintain balance."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma among people aged 65 and older. Almost a third of older adults suffer some type of fall each year, the CDC reported.

The program was crafted specifically for elderly people who have had little or no yoga experience. The Iyengar technique, which is known for the use of props such as belts and blocks, was chosen to help participants gradually master the poses while building their confidence.

"In the past, similar studies have been done that look at gait and balance improvement in elderly females using a more aggressive form of yoga," Song said. "For this study, we worked to create a very basic regimen that taught participants proper ways to breathe, stand and pose."

Researchers also found that some participants who had unrelated back and knee pain were pain-free by the end of the study.

Song said he hoped the work will pave the way for a larger study on how Iyengar yoga affects the function of the foot to improve balance and stability and prevent falls.

More information

The National Institute on Aging has more about how to prevent falls and fractures.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Temple University, news release, April 4, 2008

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