Think yoga and it conjures up images of relaxing Indian music and gentle stretching. Not what’s typically envisioned for weight control. But a new study from the University of Washington in Seattle has found that engaging in yoga for at least a half-hour a week for four or more years helped prevent weight gain in more than 1,000 people in their 50’s, especially if overweight to start.
Less Weight Gain. Among yoga participants who were normal weight at age 45, weight gain was 3.1 pounds less, on average, by their mid-50s than among those who didn’t do yoga. And for those who were overweight at age 45, the yoga participants gained 18.5 fewer pounds, on average, than those in the non-yoga group.
Why Yoga Works. There are several types of yoga; the most familiar?hatha yoga?emphasizes postures, breathing and meditation, the elements of yoga likely to aid weight maintenance. Yoga sessions usually begin with a short period of meditation, followed by a series of poses designed to build flexibility and strength?for 60 to 90 minutes, typically. During the session, there is an emphasis on breathing to enhance focus and awareness. While a vigorous yoga session could burn as many as 250 calories, most yoga workouts probably don’t burn enough to account for the weight differences seen in this study.
Also not enough to account for the weight differences, say the authors, is the fact that people who practice yoga tend to eat diets that are more healthful.
Rather, the researchers suggest that yoga may improve the capacity to exercise, which then spills over into your everyday life. Practicing yoga regularly also enhances body awareness, including the discomfort overeating causes, making you more likely to know when you?re full.
Ready, Set, Yoga! Don’t know where to start? Check out New Yoga for People Over 50 (Health Communications, Inc., 1997), which AARP recommends. These websites offer good basic information for the beginner: www.yogajournal.com, www.yoga.com. And find personal lessons, yoga retreats and yoga classes for your specific age group at www.yogafinder.com, by typing in your city and state to find what’s near you.