Many of us find the motivation to workout because we know it’s healthy. Exercise helps us maintain an ideal weight—and as we’ve all experienced—it’s a balm to our daily stress and the physical and mental tensions we carry with us.
A recent area of fitness research is exploring why anti-aging may be one of the health benefits to add to our list of reasons to roll out our mats on the daily. So far, results have been promising—and more so than many expected. Not only does exercise play a role in helping our skin behave youthfully, it also protects (to an extent) our muscles, organs, and even genes from the damaging effects of time’s passing.
While all exercise offers its own cocktail of benefits, here are three reasons why yoga in particular is anti-aging.
Three Anti-Aging Benefits of Yoga
1. Younger Skin Cells
In probably one of the coolest studies on exercise and anti-aging, researchers found that regular, moderate exercise is able to change the inner layers of skin, making them look up to decades younger. In fact, even older participants who had lived mostly sedentary lives were able to improve the health of their skin through regular, moderate exercise.
The research team reported that these improvements were likely due to improved blood circulation; improved circulation allows nutrients to be more efficiently delivered to skin. Furthermore, exercise is a source of productive stress—when we break down and rebuild muscles, the body releases cell-rejuvenating proteins, which affect the entire body—not just the areas where we worked muscles.
This exciting study applies to moderate exercise in a general sense, but I think it holds special implications for yoga. First, yoga is accessible to a variety of fitness levels, meaning that it may serve as an entryway for non-active people to become active. Second, yoga is easy to incorporate into a busy lifestyle. Ten minutes here and there throughout the day add up. Regularly going to the gym may require more flexibility in your schedule, however. Finally, yoga is a wonderful way to improve circulation. It engages large muscle groups while also twisting you from side to side and turning you upside down!
The body naturally produces antioxidants, which help it limit oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, caused by free radicals, is one of the biggest age-related threats to our health. Too much oxidative stress damages our DNA, which can cause certain cells to behave in unhealthy ways. Fortunately, not only does yoga help us cope with stress-stress (as in, “my to-do list overwhelms me!”), it also helps us combat stress at the cellular level.
A 2007 study found that “regular practice of yoga can maintain or improve antioxidant levels of the body. The clinical relevance is that yoga practice can be used to maintain the antioxidant defense system.” I, for one, thought that if I wanted to have more antioxidants in my body, I had to whip up an açai bowl. This study, however, suggests that regularly practicing yoga will help the body produce more of its own antioxidants. Will we ever think of antioxidant supplementation the same way again?
3. Slowed Spinal Deterioration
You may have heard an elderly relative or friend complaining about “shrinking” or getting shorter with age. One of the main causes of becoming shorter with age is age-related deterioration of the disks between the vertebrae. As we age, blood flow to these disks is reduced, meaning that they receive fewer nutrients via the blood. With time, the disks become thinner, drier, and more brittle. Not only does this make us shorter, it also puts us at greater risk for spinal injury.
In a 2011 study examining longterm yoga teachers (in one group) and generally healthy people (in another group), researchers found that the spines of the yoga-teacher group exhibited far less damage than the control group of relatively healthy individuals.
As yoga writer William Broad explains, “the physicians suggested that spinal flexing may have caused more nutrients to diffuse into the disks. Another possibility, they wrote, was that the repeated tension and compression of the disks stimulated the production of growth factors that limit aging.” Given that spinal health becomes so critical as we age—and a healthy posture plays a role in our outlook, it would make sense to take up yoga just for the sake of your spine!
What health benefits have you experienced from yoga?
More in Peaceful Practice: Does Yoga Give You Enough Cardio?
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