Why Women Need Muscle

Why Women Need Muscle

What’s the point of getting strong and can yoga get me there?

 

It’s not something that many women aim for… yet it’s something we ALL need and would benefit from so much.

Do you want to feel energetic, confident and make maintaining your weight easier? – then build muscle!

In this mini blog I’ll talk about why building strength is so essential, and how one particular type of yoga helps get you there! Hint…. It’s Ashtanga. 😉

(Ps. If you’re a man reading this – I’m aiming this at the ladies today! But it’s mostly all relevant to you too! It’s just that men don’t need as much convincing to work on strength).

 

Why don’t we do it?

It seems to be a cultural norm that men lift weights and women do cardio and/or ‘stretchy’ yoga. Do you agree?

To some extent this has been changing in the last 10 years, thankfully. There are more and more of us ladies that love Cross Fit and Olympic weight-lifting, and to them I say “you go girl!!!”

But, in my experience, the majority of us women find the weights section in the gym a little intimidating! Or we feel that working on strength will make us too ‘bulky’ or that it is essentially a ‘manly’ thing to do.

 

Well… there are two things I’d like to say to that:

  1. You deserve just as much space in that weights section as ANYONE! (So go use it if you’re curious!)
  2. You can build strength OUTSIDE the gym too! Such as squatting with a kettle-bell, or doing planks at home, ooooor doing some strength-focussed Ashtanga Yoga! More on this later…. 😉

 

Why is muscle beneficial?

Muscles are used for so much more than looking ‘beach ready’!!!

They are important for our health in several ways: 1) Avoiding injury. 2) ‘Soaking up’ blood sugar. 3) Increasing bone strength. 4) Motivating movement in general. 5) Aaaaand increasing confidence as you DO look better with some muscle!

 

1) Avoiding injury.

Strong muscles help your body move efficiently, without over-straining your bones, tendons and ligaments. For example, the stronger your thighs, bum, back and core muscles are, the less likely it is that picking up a child or something heavy from the ground will hurt your back!

 

2) ‘Soaking up’ blood sugar.

Your muscles use blood sugar as a fuel. The bigger your muscles, the more they act as a sponge to soak up sugar when it enters your blood stream after a meal. It’s natural and normal for your blood sugar to rise after eating, but how quickly your body can bring this level back down is a marker of how fit and healthy your body is.

If your muscles don’t absorb this sugar… then your fat cells will. This is also OK and natural! But, I’m sure you’d rather fuel your muscles. 😉

 

3) Increasing bone strength

Bones respond to being used. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ also applies to them! For bone density to remain high, it’s important that we lift heavy things (such as weights or our body as a weight). Working on building muscle therefore helps to keep our bones strong too.

This becomes ESPECIALLY important for us, women, when we pass the beautiful 4-0, as it’s normal for bones to start losing density gradually at this stage. (Unless we lift heavy things!)

 

4) Motivating more movement

When you’re stronger all over, everything in life seems a little easier. So the motivation to jump up and go for a walk or run or swim or dance or…. (fill the black) will be higher!

In this way, having more strength will have a knock-on effect on your cardiovascular AND your mental health as well. Few things are worse for cardiovascular and mental health than a lack of movement and engagement with life.

 

5) Body confidence

Muscle makes you look and feel good. I’m no fan of super restrictive eating or of aiming for a very low body weight. So, please don’t miss-understand my message.

In my opinion, building MUSCLE is the healthiest way of changing the size and shape of your body. And you can do this while still eating enough nutritious food!

Without ‘losing’ weight, this will help your body feel firm and capable. And (through the ‘sugar sponge’ mechanism mentioned above) it may just cause a bit of healthy weight loss (if you need it), without you even trying!

 

How can YOGA help me build muscle?

You’re probably thinking “What’s all this got to do with yoga?” Well, let me explain.

The styles of yoga that I love to practice and teach are Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow yoga. These are strength-building styles which use plank-poses, push-up movements, squats, hand-stands and arm-balances!

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of you who love getting a sweat on and ‘feeling the burn’ – Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow yoga is for you!

It’s the way I personally stay strong and toned, and keep my body injury free while picking up a heavy toddler all day long!

But I don’t want you to take my word for it… I’ll show you some science to back it up!

 

A little scientific proof…

Ashtanga, as a specific style of yoga, has not been studied by many researchers yet, but studies are fast being published. (This is very exciting for me!)

To date, the largest randomised controlled Ashtanga Yoga intervention was on 34 women aged 35-50 (Kim et al., 2012). Eighteen were assigned to the ‘control’ group and 16 to the Ashtanga exercise group. Those in the latter group attended 8 months of Astanga yoga twice a week, with each session lasting around 1 hour.

The researchers observed many different health and fitness aspects and whether they would change after the 8 month intervention. However, the one measurement I will focus on today is leg strength.

This increased significantly in the Ashtanga Yoga group compared with the control group!

(For outcomes on Bone Density, have a look at my blog on this: “Yoga Science: Bone Density” )

 

What about upper-body strength?

I find this finding especially significant because Ashtanga Yoga doesn’t actually focus that much on the legs!!

I have been practicing this style regularly for 5 years now, and from my experience, I can say that it strengthens the arms, core and back more than the legs. (I always add EXTRA squats to the traditional sequence of poses!)

The study by Kim et al. (2012) didn’t measure upper-body, core or back strength. However, if they found an increase in leg strength after Ashtanga yoga, then it’s very likely they would have found an even bigger increase in upper-body, core and back strength!

Upper-body strength is also something that women in particular don’t focus on as much as men. I think there might be a lot of limiting beliefs that we hold, which go something like this:

“I can’t do push-ups” or “I have weak wrists” or “I’m just not strong”

And unfortunately, these things will become true if we don’t do the work to strengthen these areas! (Which is the chicken, and which is the egg?)

 

The take-away message?

I’m not being disparaging to women!

I just believe that the vast majority of us CAN (and deserve to) be strong and confident in our bodies. However, many of us are stopped by cultural ideas of what’s a ‘feminine’ form of exercise. Or we are stopped by internalised ideas that we are not ABLE to be strong!

I wish to motivate more of us to lift up a heavy kettle-bell, do some push-ups or some strength-based yoga!

It’s not only about how you look (though it does help!) – but very much about how you FEEL: confident, strong and capable!

Yoga homework

Let’s do a strength-based yoga session this week!

If you are a member of my BendyLife community, go along to the orange strength theme and pick any class.

It could be 15 minutes 30 minutes or 1 hour!


Planning it in

Then, going forwards, plan in at least ONE strengthening activity each week. This could be strength-yoga or a short session of lifting something heavy!


And if you need a little help getting started with Ashtanga yoga, go along an have a look at my classes… 😉

You deserve to feel strong!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Kim, S., Bemben, M. G., & Bemben, D. A. (2012). Effects of an 8-month yoga intervention on arterial compliance and muscle strength in premenopausal women. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 11(2), 322.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Yoga & The Brain

Yoga & the Brain

Does yoga improve our memory, emotional control and ‘ageing’ of the brain?

 

You may not think about your brain much.

It’s just always there, chugging away, thinking thoughts for you and pumping out hormones (yes – it also releases hormones!)

You can just live your life, without ever thinking about this big squishy thing in your head! However…

 

Why think about your brain?

The brain suddenly becomes something people think about when they are getting older. The reasons for this are obvious! But why not start thinking about it a bit earlier???

As I’ll explain later, there’s good reason to look after your brain now, whatever age you are. By doing the right kinds of exercise, we could improve our brain health, and potentially delay or avoid these age-related declines!

Another reason to think about your brain is our EMOTIONS. If you find your emotions are in control of you, rather than the other way around, then there is some work to be done to help you (and your loved ones) get a more peaceful experience in life!

 

Delving into the science

Recently, I’ve been on a journey of delving into the research behind yoga and its effects on our health. This week I found a fascinating, yet mind-boggling (pun intended) review of the literature on yoga and it’s effects on the brain.

The authors reviewed 11 scientific studies; 6 of which compared long-term yogi’s and ‘yoga-naive’ people, and 5 studies that had conducted a yoga ‘experiment’ and had measured their participants before and after a yoga programme (Gothe et al., 2019).

I’ll be highlighting some of the findings of this review study, but I’ll leave out a lot of Neuroscience speak! (Mostly because it makes my brain ache just reading these words).

 

The structure of the brain

You may think of the mindfulness benefits of yoga as being purely ‘psychological’, but one very consistent finding across these studies was that a mind-body practice, such as yoga, changed the PHYSICAL shape of the brain!

This was true for lots of areas such as: frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex and insula, grey matter volume, grey matter density, cortical thickness. (Ps. Don’t worry if none of these words make sense to you!)

So, what does that MEAN of how our brains operate?

 

Yoga & Memory

There was evidence that a long-term yoga practice increased the activation of something called the default mode network (DMN) in the brain, and consequently memory performance.

The majority of the studies reviewed also highlighted changes in hippocampal volume following yoga practice. The hippocampus is known to be involved in learning and memory.

The authors noted that this effect on the hippocampus has also been shown after aerobic exercise and after mindfulness programmes. So they suggested that exercise alone and mindfulness alone, as well as a COMBINATION of the two in the form of yoga, have a positive effect on this brain structure.

The exciting thing about this finding, as mentioned by Gothe et al. (2019), is that a yoga practice COULD play a role in preserving the brain structure that declines in age-related neurodegenerative diseases and chronic stress!

 

Yoga & Grey Matter

You may have heard of grey matter. This is an essential type of tissue in your brain and spinal cord. It plays a significant role in mental functions, memory, emotions and movement.

Some of the studies that Gothe et al. (2019) reviewed suggested that yoga practitioners have higher grey matter volume in a number of regions! (I’ll spare you the complicated names).

And the reason that we want to keep this grey matter large and healthy is that it is involved in: cognitive control, inhibition of compulsive behaviours, the contextually appropriate selection and coordination of actions, and reward evaluation and decision making.

In normal-person speak, these describe your logical brain! How to act accordingly and made logical decisions in a context where we might be triggered to act ‘reactively’.

Pretty essential for life, I’d say!

 

Yoga & Emotional Control

Now here comes my favourite – emotional control. It’s my favourite to discuss because I’m absolutely guilty of losing my temper now and then!

Do you loose your cool often with those closest to you? It may be that your ‘emotional’ brain is leading the conversation, not your ‘rational’ brain.

You may have heard that our ’emotional brain’ is the Amygdala and the ‘rational brain’ is the Pre-Frontal Cortex. People all differ in how emotionally or rationally driven they are, but in general it’s quite useful to be able to feel and acknowledge your emotions, while not letting them run the show!

Well, there’s science speak for this too…

Research has found that exerting cognitive (rational) control over emotional processes leads to increased activation in the lower dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). At the same time this leads to deactivation in the amygdala (the emotional brain).

The studies reviewed by Gothe et al. (2019) suggest that yoga practitioners, when asked to do a demanding task designed to stir negative emotions, appear to activate regions of their pre-frontal cortex that indicate cognitive control (rational control).

Plausibly, these findings indicate that, when in a pickle, long-term yoga practitioners can recruit the parts of their brain that help them avoid negative emotional experiences. Instead, they use more of the rational brain, usually used for memory and the control of impulsive behaviour.

Quite a mouthful!

But basically, long-term yogi’s seem to be better at ‘choosing’ whether or not to react to negative emotions when they appear. Instead of shouting at someone, they may stop and take a deep breath instead.

Sounds useful, doesn’t it?

 

Yoga & Brain Ageing

Of course this discussion is not complete without addressing AGEING of the brain!

Needless to say, the loss of cognitive function (ability to perform normal brain functions such as memory, conversation, movement etc.) can be devastating to someones life and that of their loved ones. Thankfully, not all of us will experience this! (So, don’t let me worry you too much).

However, there will be an inevitable decline in structure and function of our brains as we age, even if the effects on things like memory are only minuscule for many of us.

So, it’s worth finding out what might help keep our brains healthy!

Well, following a yoga intervention, participants had an increase in connectivity of regions in their brain’s default mode network (DMN), and this was associated with improvements in verbal memory recall.

This is important in the context of keeping the brain healthy as we age. Indeed, better connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) has been associated with less age-related brain function decline for both typical older adults, and those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Similarly, other studies reviewed by Gothe et al. (2019) also showed a positive effect of yoga on the grey matter of the brain. As grey matter declines with age, it seems that yoga (through combining physical activity and mindfulness aspects) is a brain-protective activity as we age!

 

The take away message

If you’ve managed to wade your way through all that science-speak, well done!! Now just my final thoughts about how we can apply this to our own lives.

Regardless of your age, it’s beneficial to have a healthy, sharp, emotionally stable brain! (Don’t you agree?)

What I see as the take-away message from this review study is this: Staying active (in any way) AND doing a regular mindfulness practice (whether that is meditation, yoga nidra, or any other form of yoga) is important for your BRAIN!

Science doesn’t yet know exactly which component of being active and mindful is the ‘active ingredient’ in benefitting the brain, but they are pretty certain that these things a GREAT for this big, old squishy thing in our head!

So, however you can fit it into your life, get a sweat on, use your muscles, and regularly find a quiet moment to be mindful: breathing deeply and becoming aware of the sensations in your body in a non-judgemental way.

In MY opinion a fantastic way to do this is… Ashtanga Yoga! 😉

Your BRAIN (years from now) will thank you!

Yoga homework

Plan in 3 short yoga/exercise/meditation session this week!

(Your choice which you choose)


Start small

I’m a big fan of starting a healthy habit by doing SHORT sessions.

If you plan to exercise or do yoga, then start with 20 to 30 minutes!

If you plan to meditate, just start with 5 minutes!


And if you need a little help getting started with Ashtanga yoga, go along an have a look at my classes… 😉

You deserve some YOU time!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Gothe, N. P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, J. S. (2019). Yoga effects on brain health: a systematic review of the current literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), 105-122.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Yoga for Mental health

Yoga for Mental Health

Does a sweaty Ashtanga yoga practice contribute to long-term wellbeing?

 

You’ve probably heard that yoga is good for reducing stress.

But what do you picture when you see a ‘stress reducing’ class?

You probably DON’T picture a person sweating and breathing loudly in lots of plank poses, Upwards Dogs and Downward Dogs… (aka. Ashtanga yoga!)

Well, this week I’m reviewing a recent scientific study that compared the mental wellbeing of long-term Ashtanga yogis (colloquially called ‘Ashtangi’s’), with people from the general population.

This topic is near and dear to my heart because a regular Ashtanga yoga practice has saved my sanity a few times in my life already. I’ll elaborate a bit more on at the end of this blog!

 

How is Ashtanga different?

If you think yoga is chilled out… then Ashtanga yoga will come as a shock to you.

It is a dynamic flow of movement and breath that puts you into poses which heat you up and build strength in your whole body.

When in an Ashtanga class, you always start with Sun Salutations. This is a warm-up routine that flows through forward folds, (sometimes a handstand), plank poses, Upwards Dogs and Downward Dogs. By the end of this warm-up….. you are WARM!

 

No room for worries!

Ashtanga yoga synchronises each inhale and exhale with a movement, and creates a state where your WHOLE mind’s bandwidth is taken up with the yoga practice. This means that there is no more space for your mind to think about worries and other thoughts. So, it is like a moving meditation, or also called being in a ‘flow state’.

Traditionally, Ashtanga yoga is practiced on 6 mornings a week, and the remaining day is the well-earned rest day.

It is quite a demanding schedule! And requires people who have a normal job to get up at 5am to do their practice.

(Of course, you can still benefit from Ashtanga in a slightly less intense and rigid way – more on this later!)

 

Biggest Ashtanga study yet…

The study by Morris et al. (2023) is the first of it’s kind that has used such a large sample of long-term Ashtangi’s. There has been a lot of research on ‘yoga’ in general and on Ayengar yoga (another type of yoga which focuses more on stretching and less on building heat), but not so much specifically on Ashtanga yoga.

As Ashtanga yoga generates a real exercise effect (heat, sweat, muscle ache etc.), it needs to be studied separately from the more relaxing forms of yoga.

 

What did the researchers do?

Morris et al. (2023) recruited ‘Ashtangi’s’ who had practiced this style of yoga for at least 5 days a week, over least 12 months. They ended up with 213 long-term Ashtangi’s, of whom 20% had actually practiced for more than 10 years!!

The researchers asked this group to complete a special questionnaire called the PERMA scale which gains an understanding of 8 aspects of wellbeing:

  1. Positive emotions
  2. Engagement
  3. Relationships
  4. Meaning
  5. Accomplishment
  6. Overall wellbeing
  7. Physical health
  8. Negative emotions

The PERMA questionnaire had previously been used on a very large group of 31,966 representative of the general population of adults, and this data was used as a comparison.

 

How did the Ashtangi’s perform?

The results were pretty clear!

The long-term Ashtangi’s scored higher on ALL positive aspects of wellbeing (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, overall wellbeing and physical health). And they scored significantly lower on the one negative aspect: negative emotion.

For the nerds out there; all these differences were statistically significant (p<0.001)!

 

The longer, the better

The researchers also investigated whether these positive wellbeing effects were stronger when Ashtanga yoga had been practiced for more years.

And, you guessed it, this was the case! The more years that someone had dedicated to the Ashtanga practice, the more positive they scored on the PERMA wellbeing scale. Specifically for the aspects: positive motions, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, overall well-being and physical health.

Well, I’d like some of that please!!

 

What is it about the Ashtanga lifestyle?

The question that begs to be asked is:

“WHAT is is about Ashtanga that led to these high scores on the wellbeing scale?”

As this study was not a controlled experiment, we can’t say with confidence that it is the movements in the Ashtanga yoga style that cause this upward shift in wellbeing.

In fact, there are a multitude of factors at play in an Ashtanga yoga lifestyle which could each contribute a little to the higher scores.

Here are just a few things that may have increased their wellbeing:

  • Dedication to a physical / spiritual practice. I mean, just think if YOU dedicated 90 minutes each day on something that helped you quiet your mind and made you fit. (No housework, no kids, no work during that time).  That ‘me time’ alone would probably make you calmer, happier and more collected!
  • Waking up early consistently (and thus going to bed early consistently). It’s nooooo secret that sleep is important for our mental and physical health. Have you ever been long-term sleep deprived? (I have!) And it definitely dragged down my mental state.
  • Exercising for 6 days a week. Perhaps it was simply the physical and mental benefits of getting sweaty 6 days a week! Ashtanga yoga builds a lot of strength and tones the body. So dedicated Ashtangi’s definitely notice a difference in their body.
  • The mental focus/meditation invoked by the Astanga practice. The ‘flow state’ or meditative state achieved in Ashtanga yoga may have altered their brain chemistry. There is research showing that long-term mediation does have measurable effects the brain! (Steeter et al. 2007)

 

How is this relevant to me?

“But I don’t have the time for this!?!?” I can already hear you say.

And nor do I! I can’t see how, with a job and a young family, someone could do 90 minutes of yoga early in the morning 6 days a week. (Well, it WOULD be possible if I went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 4am…)

Buuuuuuuut as that will NOT be happening anytime soon, let’s see how we CAN make it work for a more realistic lifestyle…

 

Making it REALISTIC

I personally think that these well-being benefits came from the long-term dedication to a mind-body practice which gets you into a ‘flow-state’. Nowhere in the study did they prove that it was necessarily the 6 days a week part, or the part about the yoga taking 90 minutes!

So, we can distil the essence of this Ashtanga lifestyle into a more realistic one for the every-day person.

To me, this looks like a 20 or 30 minute Ashtanga yoga practice 3-5 times a week. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the morning (but it COULD be if that works for you). It could be before lunch or before dinner. As long as you can find that 30 minutes of quiet time to get into a ‘flow state’ while you’re getting sweaty!

 

My personal story

To finish this blog (which has got a little longer than I planned!)… I’d like to add a personal account of how a regular Ashtanga practice saved my sanity.

On two occasions in my life I have felt very emotionally low, you can even say depressed. One was when I had a very hard time after I almost failed my PhD exam. The way this manifested was a downwards spiral almost into alcoholism.

At this time in my life I found Ashtanga! And it helped get my focus back into my body, and not just locked up in my head. This was the start of a very positive change for me.

The second time was when I had post-natal depression, which spiralled into suicidal ideation at times… Only when I managed to get my baby to sleep in his cot for naps, and fitted in a short, daily Ashtanga yoga practice, did I start to feel like myself again.

At both these difficult times, the dedication to daily Ashtanga yoga gave me the ‘excuse’ I needed to spend some time on myself. The excuse I needed to allow myself to breathe deeply and slow down the monkey brain for just a little while!

Yoga homework

I don’t expect anyone to practice yoga for 90 minutes, 6 days a week!

But I dooooo recommend planning-in a SHORT yoga session, 3-5 times a week.


Start small

So, I invite you to look at your diary and start small. Can you do 15 minutes, 3 times a week? Let’s start there!


Open your diary

Block out three 15 minute clocks in your diary, at times when it is realistic for you.


And if you need a little help getting started with Ashtanga yoga, go along an have a look at my classes!

Happy sweating!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Morris, B., Jackson, J., & Roberts III, A. (2023). Effects of long-term Ashtanga Yoga practice on psychological well-being. Mental Health and Social Inclusion.

Streeter, C.C., Jensen, J.E., Perlmutter, R.M., Cabral, H.J., Tian, H., Terhune, D.B. and Renshaw, P.F. (2007), “Yoga asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study”, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 419-426.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Bendy for Life

Bendy for Life

How can we become fit 80 year olds?

 

Have you got a vision for yourself when you’re older?

I do! I want to be mobile enough to do all the things that I enjoy! Dancing, walking, running, yoga, looking after grandchildren… just to name a few! (And I’d love to be doing pretty well mentally too!)

In this mini blog I will write about what we need to be doing NOW to enable that future vision to come true.

I’ll review a few research studies that have looked at data across the life-course to see what people are doing in middle age (or younger) to enable a more active and healthy older age.

This topic is relevant to EVERYONE. The younger you start thinking about your future self, the more likely it is that your future self will be strong and fit!

 

Why think about ageing?

Thankfully, it’s easy to be optimistic about our ourselves when we’re in our 70s and 80s, from our current point of view in younger bodies. (And 30s, 40s and 50s is STILL young!)

“I’ll be like those young-at-heart oldies in California!”

Perhaps ageing is a topic that you’d like to ignore. After all, if you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s, then there’s still ages left, right? That’s true! However…

The saying “start as you mean to continue” is REALLY relevant when it comes to our physical abilities in older age. How can you expect your 70 year old self to attend a yoga class, if you’re not laying the foundation for this now?

Our bodies inevitably become less able with age. If you start off today with a low level of fitness, strength and flexibility, then this will decline steadily over the next 20, 30, 40 years…

But if you get your mobility, cardio-fitness and strength at a great level TODAY then (despite age-related declines) you’ll be at a MUCH better place in your 80s!

That’s the (quite obvious) theory, but what does the research say?

 

Life-course research

Life-course research uses the assumption that our behaviours (and environmental influences on us) all throughout our life have a cumulative effect on how we will be at the end of our lives.

“Isn’t that obvious?” I hear you ask.

Yes, it is obvious. But even so, not all research uses this perspective! And it is actually quite difficult to study the life-course effect. Researchers need to collect data from the same individuals throughout their whole lives. (This means studies need to be 90 years long!)

Thankfully, there are longitudinal studies that have been collecting data from volunteers for decades. Other studies have interviewed older adults and asked them to recall their lifestyles and physical activity levels in the past.

Researchers have been able to learn some interesting things from these!

 

How can we be MOBILE 80-year-olds?

What can we do NOW to be mobile in older age?

Mobility is not a very sexy term, but it is THE MOST useful thing for when we’re older. Just think: the ability to walk, drive a car, engage in active hobbies, cook, clean, wash and dress ourselves and socialise!

Well, Patel et al. (2006) interviewed 1026 Italian older adults about their past and also assessed their physical mobility at their current age. They found that more exercise in mid-life led to stronger legs and a faster walking pace when participants were in their 70s.

This is NOT surprising, BUT it is nevertheless a wake-up call if you’re not currently exercising!

 

Mid-life is the time to get STRONG!

Strength is also linked with maintained mobility and the ability to have FUN in our older years.

A different research group (Dodds et al., 2013) used a longitudinal dataset of people in the UK (the MRC NSHD study). These volunteers had entered the study at birth in 1946, and were regularly followed-up by researchers until 2010!

Between 2006-2010 (when volunteers were 60-64 years old) 2,229 volunteers were still alive and able to take part.

Volunteers who had done more Leisure Time Physical Activity (LTPA) across mid-life had a better grip strength at age 60–64, in both men and women. Grip strength is closely correlated with whole body strength and many other markers of good health.

This association only appeared in the data after age 53, so the researchers argued that Leisure-Time Physical Activity is especially important in mid-life.

LTPA is a wide term, including any leisure activity that uses the body. So think, walking, running, cycling, golf, yoga, weight-training, other exercise (and more!)

 

But we forget about ourselves!

I don’t know about you, but most people I know in mid-life (or approaching it) are SO BUSY with taking care of their children or their older parents, or with their demanding jobs that they FORGET about their own fitness!

It’s easy to think,:

“oh I’m too busy for this now. I’ll get onto exercise when my kids are older, or when I’m retired, or …. (insert other future time-frame)”.

Another thing I have noticed is that us (women) approaching or at mid-life are also not thinking about building STRENGTH.

However, it is EXTRA important at this age to think about our fitness and strength. It is extra important to get comfortable with swinging a dumb-bell, or to spending some time in plank or down-ward dog!

So ladies, let’s build some strength NOW!

 

What about BRAIN health?

Lastly, do you want a healthy BRAIN in your 80s? (That’s a rhetorical question because… of course you do!)

Well, the evidence points towards the need to be active in mid-life too.

Gow et al. (2017) analysed data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. This is a study that recruited its volunteers at age 11 (they were all born in 1921). Most of them completed a mental ability test at age 11, and the surviving volunteers completed a cognitive test at ages 79, 83, 87 and 90 years.

Volunteers recalled their activity participation for young (20–35 years), mid (40–55 years), and later adulthood (60–75 years), and at the time of the study (average age of 79).

The researchers found that engagement in leisure activities in mid-life was positively associated with having a better cognitive ability (brain health) in later life.

So, this is yet another reason for those of us approaching (or at) mid-life to start valuing and prioritising our own fitness needs!

 

“So, what’s all this got to do with yoga?”

I personally find yoga the perfect mobility and ‘age-proofing’ exercise. The style of yoga that I practice works on flexibility, strength, and balance! These are all aspects that inevitably get a little worse as we get older.

With age:

  • Tendons naturally become stiffer…
  • Muscles start to loose strength (Sarcopenia)…
  • Balance becomes more challenging…

(Sorry to put a downer on your day! But it’s true!)

So, MY view is that establishing a sustainable habit of yoga TODAY (whatever age you are), and aiming to keep this going long-term is a great bet for making your older-age vision come true.

 

What does AGE-PROOFING yoga look like?

An age-proofing yoga routine should include aspects of flexibility, strength and balance. So, just the relaxing kind of yoga (such a Yin or Yoga Nidra) won’t cut it!

I personally LOVE an Ashtanga-inspired yoga style (combined with some squats with a kettle bell and occasional short runs!)

Ashtanga yoga incorporates lots of planks and push-up style movements that really strengthen the arms, back and core. It also uses plenty of balance-challenging poses, and works on hip and shoulder flexibility.

As yoga generally doesn’t build leg-strength that much, adding in some extra squats with a weight is super beneficial for building that lower body strength that will keep you standing, walking and climbing stairs into older age.

 

The challenges of mid-life!

This is THE BUSIEST time of your life! Kids, jobs, parents, pets. etc. etc. etc. (Trust me, I get it!)

Your fitness routine has to fit in to this busy existence. So I don’t expect you to go marathon training!

That’s why I am a big fan of SHORT sessions, REGULARLY. Rather than a one-hour class once a week, I believe three session at home of 15-30 minutes would be more useful! (or even five minutes!!) As long as you’re getting into the habit of doing it regularly.

(For some science behind this idea, see my Exercise Snacking blog).

I KNOW that it is a huge challenge to put yourself first when it feels like you’re looking after everybody…

But, if you can find a way SOMEHOW to work on your strength, flexibility and balance today (even if it’s just a tiny bit)…

…then your 80-year-old self will thank you!

Homework

Take a little moment to visualise your ideal 80 year old self.


What activities do you want to be able to do?

And whatever she/he is doing – think about how you can ‘train’ for this TODAY.

However fit and mobile you want to be at age 80, you need to be TWICE that level right now!


What can you do NOW?

Then, take another moment to honestly reflect on where your mobility and fitness is right now. If necessary, plan to get in some more strength training or yoga!


Three cheers to the fit-oldies!!!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Dodds, R., Kuh, D., Aihie Sayer, A., & Cooper, R. (2013). Physical activity levels across adult life and grip strength in early old age: updating findings from a British birth cohort. Age and ageing42(6), 794-798.

Gow, A. J., Pattie, A., & Deary, I. J. (2017). Lifecourse activity participation from early, mid, and later adulthood as determinants of cognitive aging: The Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences72(1), 25-37.

Patel, K. V., Coppin, A. K., Manini, T. M., Lauretani, F., Bandinelli, S., Ferrucci, L., & Guralnik, J. M. (2006). Midlife physical activity and mobility in older age: The InCHIANTI study. American journal of preventive medicine31(3), 217-224.

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