Research now shows that a wide range of illnesses including those (like osteoporosis and arthritis) that are associated with agingare caused by…
or worsened because of, stress. In this article we will take a look at some of these issues, and also at how yoga can help alleviate them.
How Stress Affects an Aging Body
- Chronic stress increases the levels of stress hormones in our bodies;
- Stress obstructs the production of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which are important for the health of our bones.
- Our bodies become more acidic when we’re stressed and so our body, in an effort to restore itself to a more balanced pH level, leaches calcium and other minerals from the bones, contributing to bone health decline.
- Stress plays a role in the onset and severity of arthritis.
The good news is that the reverse is also true. When we are relaxed our bones become stronger because calcium is not needed for this purpose.
One way the effects of stress can be combatted is through diet. A more alkaline diet will help the body to restore itself to a state of acid-alkaline balance.
Another way to promote bone health is through weight bearing exercise like yoga (a practice that can mitigate the effects of osteoporosis). Many yoga postures require us to lift our own weight, which improves bone density, and the range of modifications available for most postures ensures we can gradually, and safely, increase the level of weight bearing pressure on our body and bones.
Yoga Poses to Create Bone Density
- adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) and
- urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog)
These are particularly good in this regard as they strengthen the arms, which are especially vulnerable to fractures from osteoporosis.
Stress also plays a role in the onset and severity of arthritis | The two main types of arthritis encountered are:
- Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on joints as the cartilage between bones wears out causing them to painfully grind against each other.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease, causing swelling in the joints.
Yoga is effective in managing the effects of arthritis because it keeps people mobile. Regular movement ensures that synovial fluid is secreted into the joints, lubricating them so they glide over each other with ease and lessening the likelihood of (and symptoms of) wear and tear in the body.
Through regular movement the flow of nutrients into the cartilage is also ensured; it is the process of compressing, squeezing and releasing joint cartilage that actually delivers nutrients to the joints. The parts of the joint surface that are outside our normal range of movement are not fed and therefore degenerate. When we increase our normal range of movement and we increase the area of cartilage that is fed and nourished.
Yoga nourishes the disks in the spine. These disks act as shock absorbers between our vertebrae. When they are healthy the likelihood of disk herniation is reduced and because of this we are less likely to experience nerve compression. When our spinal disks are not exercised in this way we experience pain, our disks shrink…and then so do we!
Pain causes our muscles to tighten, another characteristic of people who are under stress. This also contributes to arthritic pain and is a reason why yoga is good for preventing and managing related symptoms. Yoga provides us with a safe way to stretch our muscles as we simultaneously learn to breathe, which reduces our stress levels and improves the health of our body across our lifespan.