Yoga Science: Bone Density

The value of Sun Salutations for your bones…

 

I have been thinking more and more about how to communicate the benefits of yoga. There’s really not much point telling people they will get flexible… that’s obvious! But there are so many more interesting and surprising health benefits.

So this week I delved into a scientific research paper on bone health for women. This may be super relevant for you, or maybe not! Either way, I think you’ll be interested in what I have to say about it…

 

Why is exercise important for bone health?

We all build up our store of bone density (the hardness of our bones) in our childhood and teenage years. After this, I am afraid our bone density will slowly decrease….

Unless! We keep reminding our body that we actually NEED these bones. We do this by staying active and applying load and impact to our bones.

In the field of Sports Science it is widely accepted that high impact and load-bearing sports, such as running and even weight lifting, will help maintain bone density. However, the science on yoga is a new and emerging field!

Cue: this interesting study on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga! (Kim et al., 2015)

 

What did this study do?

Thirty-four women, aged 35-50, were randomly assigned to an Ashtanga Yoga programme or encouraged to go about their normal lives, but to be mindful of maintaining the same body weight.

The Ashtanga group did a yoga session twice a week for 8 months. This is quite impressive!

To start with they only did a few sun-salutations and ‘vinyasas’ (the sun half salutation in-between poses). As the programme progressed, more and more sun-salutations and vinyasas were added. To add bone-building impact, the leaders also encouraged the jump to standing (from Downward dog), and jump back to Chataranga Dandasana (the low plank).

If you’re familiar with my style of teaching, this will sound pretty similar!

 

Winter is bad for our bones…

It is known that the rate of bone turn-over is higher in the winter vs. the summer (Woitge et al., 1998). Meaning that it is more likely that we will loose bone density in winter, and less likely over the summer months.

Bone is not a static thing. It is constantly being broken down (resorption) and re-made (formation). So this study tested both these aspects of bone health, as well as Bone Mineral Density pre- and post- the intervention (and a bunch of other measurement too!)

An important detail is that this study measured the bone health of participants first in October and after the programme in June. So, by all accounts, there was an expectation for bone health to decrease (at least in the control group).

 

So, what happened after the Yoga experiment?

Are you waiting with bated breath for the results?? 😉

Well they were interesting! The Ashtanga yoga group had an INCREASE in bone formation marker, while the control group had a decrease in it.

This means that the Ashtanga Yoga programme managed to halt the usual winter-induced decrease in bone formation, and even helped increase it a little bit.

I find this remarkable, as the program only contain yoga 2 times a week. And in all likelihood the participants did not attend ALL their sessions!

(I’ve worked as a researcher on an intervention like this and, TRUST me, it’s difficult to keep your participants motivated!)

So just imagine the possible effect on bone health if Ashtanga yoga was done 3-4 times a week, and for longer than 8 months!

#JustSayin’

 

Is twice a week enough?

While the increase in bone formation is SUPER exciting, the other bone health markers showed no difference between the yoga and control groups (bone resorption and Bone Mineral Density).

My personal hunch is that twice a week may not be enough of a physical stimulus to have a big impact on bone strength…

And in their discussion, the authors cited a different study (Phoosuwan et al. 2009) in which women aged 50-60 years did weight-baring yoga 3 times a week for 3 months. This study DID find a significant decrease in bone re-sorption, which did not happen in their control group.

Personally, I like to practice 4-5 times a week. And my personal motto is that it doesn’t have to be a full 1 hour session! I wonder what the impact would be on the bones by doing 4-5 times a 15min-30min session.

So…. More research is needed! (As always) 😉

 

How is this relevant for you?

Bone strength is revenant for us all. Strong and healthy bones allow us to live life to the fullest for as long as possible!

However, it’s especially relevant if you’re a women over age 30. As we (I say ‘we’ because I am in that category!) approach the menopause it’s SO important to work on building up and/or maintaining strong and healthy bones.

This is because when we get beyond the menopause, bone health naturally starts to fall due to the lower female hormones in our body. But the stronger our bones are to start with, the less you will notice this effect. And eventually it will delay the onset of osteoporosis (brittle bones).

If this isn’t a motivational push to do Sun Salutations (or other weight-baring/high-impact activity) – then I don’t know what is!

 

Let’s practice!

I invite you to give Ashtanga a go.

I have lots of Ashtanga yoga videos that are super easy to follow.

Anything from 10 minutes to 1 hour!

I challenge you to do at least ONE class in the coming week.

Start today!

And your 80-year old self will thank you.

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x

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References

Kim, S., Bemben, M. G., Knehans, A. W., & Bemben, D. A. (2015). Effects of an 8-month ashtanga-based yoga intervention on bone metabolism in middle-aged premenopausal women: A randomized controlled study. Journal of sports science & medicine, 14(4), 756.

Phoosuwan, M., Kritpet,T. and Yuktanandana, P. (2009) The effects of weight bearing yoga training on the bone resorption markers of the postmenopausal women. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand 92, 102-108.

Woitge, H.W., Scheidt-Nave, C., Kissling, C., Leidig-Bruckner, G., Meyer, K., Grauer, A., Scharla, S.H., Ziegler, R. and Seibel, M.J. (1998) Seasonal variation of biochemical indexes of bone turnover: results of a population-based study. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 83, 68-75.