In yoga, you don’t lift weights or do high impact movements, but research is clear that yoga can help build and maintain bone strength. In a two-year study by Loren Fishman, MD, women with an average age of 68 who did yoga classes gained bone density while those who didn’t lost bone. I’ve seen the power of yoga in my clinical practice too! In many years of clinical practice, my only patient who didn’t lose any bone during her menopause transition was a yoga instructor who taught classes every day.
Why does yoga work so well for bone health?
• Yoga directly strengthens the muscles of the core, back and around the hips. Whenever you strengthen muscle, you strengthen the bone attached to it.
• Yoga stretches the muscles and also the bones. Stretching and bending of bone stimulates the signal for new bone formation, while reducing bone breakdown.
• Even though it might not appear so, yoga is weight-bearing. For example, standing on one leg puts all the weight of the body on one single leg, strengthening foot, leg and hip muscles.
• Yoga increases circulation, bringing nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to all tissues of the body.
• The focus on deep gentle breathing in yoga helps alkalize the body and rids bone-eating acids from the body.
• Yoga is a “mindful” exercise which helps balance the neuro-endocrine system, reducing bone-depleting cortisol.
• Two-thirds of women doing yoga reported positive postural changes in some research and several studies suggest improvement even in established kyphosis.
Most exciting to me, when yoga involves even a short period of meditation you can expect altered gene expression within the body. With meditation, health-promoting beneficial genes are “turned-on” while clusters of “bad genes” that lead to disease are turned off. Exercise should be fun and many of us find yoga is. So if you haven’t done it already, why not give it a try?
Bhasin, M. K., J. A. Dusek, B. H. Chang, M. G. Joseph, J. W. Denninger, G. L. Fricchione, H. Benson, and T. A. Libermann. 2013. Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. PLoS One 8(5):e62817.
Fishman, L. M. 2009. Yoga for osteoporosis: A pilot study. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation 25(3):244–250.
Fishman, L. M. and E. Saltonstall. 2010. Yoga for osteoporosis: The complete guide. New York: Norton.
Greendale, G. A., A. McDivit, A. Carpenter, L. Seeger, and M. H. Huang. 2002. Yoga for women with hyperkyphosis: Results of a pilot study. American Journal of Public Health 92(10):1611–1614.
Kamei, T., Y. Toriumi, H. Kimura, S. Ohno, H. Kumano, and K. Kimura. 2000. Decrease in serum cortisol during yoga exercise is correlated with alpha wave activation. Perceptual and Motor Skills 90:1027–1032.
Phoosuwan, M., T. Kritpet, and P. Yuktanandana. 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(Supplement 5):S102–S108.
West, J., C. Otte, K. Geher, J. Johnson, and D. C. Mohr. 2004. Effects of Hatha yoga and African dance on perceived stress, affect, and salivary cortisol. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 28(2):114-118.
Yu, H. C., Wu, T. C., Chen, M. R., Liu, S. W., Chen, J. H., and Lin, K. M. C. 2010. Mechanical stretching induces osteoprotegerin in differentiating C2C12 precursor cells through noncanonical Wnt pathways. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 25(5):1128-1137.