Sitting in a chair or using a chair for support while doing yoga could have plenty of benefits for older adults, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers say after an eight-week program, the exercise reduced pain and fatigue and improved walking speed in seniors who could not do standing exercises because of osteoarthritis in the joints of their lower extremities. And up to three months after the program ended, the seniors were still seeing reduced pain interference, which is how much pain impedes other aspects of a person’s life, such as social activities. Those results were compared to a group of seniors who took part in a health education program, rather than the 45-minute chair yoga sessions twice a week.
Can chair yoga relieve osteoarthritis pain?
The condition is more prevalent among the elderly, affecting over 33 percent of seniors who are 65 years and older. Also known as degenerative joint disease, the condition affects the hyaline cartilage in the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, research has shown that exercise, such as swimming or walking, is one of the best therapies available.
However, seniors may find it increasingly difficult to stay physically active. With age, many adults lose the ability to exercise while standing, as the muscle strength and balance decline. When affected by osteoarthritis, the pain makes it even more difficult to participate in full-body physical activity.
This is why a team of researchers from Florida Atlantic University set out to examine the benefits of a less exerting type of yoga practice for seniors with osteoarthritis.
Chair yoga reduces pain interference
The study showed an association between chair yoga and a reduction in pain, pain interference, and fatigue, as well as an improvement in gait speed.
Compared with participants in the HEP, those who participated in chair yoga reported a greater reduction in pain interference both during the sessions and 3 months after the chair yoga program ended.
However, the reductions in pain and fatigue did not last beyond the intervention, and chair yoga had no effect on balance.
Park explains the significance of the study:
“The effect of pain on everyday living is most directly captured by pain interference, and our findings demonstrate that chair yoga reduced pain interference in everyday activities.”
Dr. McCaffrey also highlights the importance of chair yoga as an alternative therapy for seniors with osteoarthritis:
“Currently, the only treatment for osteoarthritis, which has no cure, includes lifestyle changes and pharmacologic treatments that are not without adverse events. The long-term goal of this research is to address the non-pharmacologic management of lower extremity osteoarthritis pain and physical function in older adults, and our study provides evidence that chair yoga may be an effective approach for achieving this goal.”
Getting Started with Chair Yoga
Chair Yoga “builds strength and flexibility just like other forms of yoga,” says Kristine Lee, creator of the Sit ‘N’ Fit Chair Yoga method. She designed the practice to give older adults a simple and effective way to exercise.
If you’d like to explore the benefits of Chair Yoga, first consult your doctor or physical therapist (PT) to see if it’s right for you. If you’ve been cleared for exercise and would like to begin Chair Yoga with guidance, ask your PT or health care provider for a referral to local classes or instructors in your area. You can also conduct an online search for Chair Yoga classes. Local senior centers may also be able to refer you.
Look for instructors with a “Yoga Alliance Certification, at least 200 hours, with additional certification specifically for Chair Yoga or Yoga Therapy,” Ms. Lee advises. Chair Yoga can also be practiced at home. “What people love most about Sit ‘N’ Fit Chair Yoga is that they can do it,” she says.
When your joints are in pain from OA, exercise may be the last thing you want to do but its important to try. If you keep at it, little by little you’ll progress in your ability and start enjoying the exercises more. Regular exercise—like Chair Yoga—may help relieve OA pain and improve daily living.