We all get older, but what if there was something we could do to age more slowly?
According to a 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine and research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario; just about any type and amount of physical exercise could slow the aging process where it counts: Deep within the cells of our bodies. Take a look at how increasing age can affect your health and what exercise can do to slow that process down.
How aging affects you
Time is the great equalizer because we are all subject to the gradual process of aging. For those of us who manage to avoid serious disease, severe accidents, or major medical events like stroke or heart attack – age will change us slowly, but inexorably. Let’s take a look at how the steady passage of time can degrade your health and abilities.
Significant aging by your 30’s
By the time you leave your 20s, there are significant signs of aging that will affect your metabolism, heart, and circulatory system.
- After age 30, the average males maximum heart rate is reduced by about one beat per minute every year.
- The peak capacity of the heart to pump blood will decline by five to ten percent every decade after your 30th birthday. That means your heart will decline from being able to pump approximately 2.5 quarts of blood per minute in your 20’s to around one quart in your 80s.
- Your third decade of life is when blood vessels begin to stiffen, and blood pressure can begin to creep up. Worse, the blood can become increasingly thicker, making it harder to pump. Your red blood cells will also decline in number, making it harder to move oxygen to where it’s needed.
- We begin to lose muscle mass, which reduces our strength levels and contributes to a lower resting metabolic rate, which leads to the next effect of aging.
- Most of us will begin to put on excess body fat by middle-age; an average of three to four pounds per year after 30. This weight gain is typically accompanied by a rise in blood sugar levels that may eventually lead to diabetes.
Muscle loss, osteoporosis, hormone changes, and insomnia
As we age, we’ll continue to lose more muscle mass. Ultimately, our bodies can lose up to half the muscle we had in our 20s. We don’t just get weaker from muscle loss, though; our muscles and ligaments become less flexible which can make restrict movement and make us more susceptible to injury.
We all, man or woman, will experience bone loss, called osteoporosis. As a result, the risk of fractures will increase with age. Both sexes will experience a drop in sex hormones, testosterone for men and estrogen for women. While women suffer a precipitous drop in estrogen levels after age 50 due to menopause, men’s testosterone levels tend to decline by approximately one percent every year after age 40. This is why sexual vigor and desire gradually fall into late middle age and beyond.
Our nervous system also deteriorates with age. Your reflexes will slow down, and it will become harder to recall information (those embarrassing ‘senior moments’) or learn new things.
With increasing age, the quantity and quality of sleep that we get begin to decline. We have more trouble falling asleep and wake up more often through the night. Most men will also start to urinate more frequently during the night due to prostate issues – further reducing the quality of sleep.
The effects of exercise on aging
According to recent research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario that involved a breed of mice that experienced early aging; a regular exercise routine may slow or even undo the symptoms of premature aging in the test animals.
When the test mice remained sedentary, they quickly showed signs of aging like cognitive decline (dementia), becoming weaker, frailer, wizened, gray or losing hair. But, when these animals were provided access to a running wheel – they kept their youth, hair, strength, memory, and sexual health significantly longer than the sedentary mice.
Your telomeres tell your age
The 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine also discovered that exercise could slow our biological aging by about ten years. Researchers collected data from almost 6,000 people who had participated in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 and 2002. These participants had been asked both demographic and lifestyle questions – including exercise frequency.
Most importantly they also looked at telomere lengths. Telomeres are the protective structures on the ends of our chromosomes that help maintain stability, a lot like how the plastic bit at the end of a shoelace keeps it from coming undone. Every time our cells divide, these telomeres get a bit shorter. Once they get too short to protect a chromosome, the cell gets old and dies, possibly causing age-related cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Exercise preserves telomeres to slow aging
In the 2017 study, exercise scientists at Brigham Young University in Utah investigated the effect of physical activity on telomere length. The result was that they found substantial evidence of differences between people who got a high level of regular, intense exercise and people who didn’t. Researchers found that adults that maintained high levels of physical exercise experienced an aging advantage of almost ten years when compared to sedentary individuals. Even moderate levels of physical activity had a benefit; active people’s telomeres were about seven years younger than their chronological age.
For this study, a high level of physical activity was defined as going for a 30 to 40 minute run at least five days per week.
The study authors conclude that to have a real impact on the rate of biological aging, getting just a little exercise won’t have any real effect. You’re going to need to exercise often and at a high level. They also say that they now know that one reason that regular physical activity helps to prolong life and reduce mortality from all causes may be because it keeps our telomeres healthy to keep our cells functioning well longer.
Your heart is the engine of your body; how fast it pumps can provide you with vital information on how well your body is doing while exercising.
It’s critical that you learn how to calculate your optimal heart rate zones, comprehend the meaning of these zones, and how to use that information to meet the specific fitness goals you’re aiming for.
What is Your Reserve Heart Rate?
Your heart rate (measured as beats per minute) ranges from its lowest – your resting heart rate to a maximum (past which it will not go) that you can only achieve when under the most intense exertion. Within this broad range, your heart rate can be further divided into four particular zones:
- The fat-burning zone
- Your aerobic fitness zone
- A transitional zone called the aerobic/anaerobic zone
- A purely anaerobic zone
To discover what the heart-rate that brings you in particular into a specific zone; you’ll need to calculate your reserve heart rate.
We can do this by first calculating our maximum heart rate. Just subtract your age from 220 to discover your age-predicted maximum heartbeats per minute.
It’s easy: Let’s say your age is 45, you need to subtract 45 from 220 and 175 beats per minute (bpm) would be your maximum heart-rate.
Next, find your resting heart rate by taking your pulse for one minute when you’re at rest. The recommended time to do this is when lying in bed before getting up in the morning, and the best spot to use is your throat (the carotid pulse).
Finally, your heart rate reserve is the number you get after subtracting the resting rate from your age-adjusted maximum rate. For example – your resting rate is 75 bpm, and your maximum is 175 bpm. Therefore your reserve heart rate will be 100 bpm. This is the figure we’ll use to find your optimal heart rate for each of the four zones.
What Does Age Have to Do with my Maximum Heart Rate?
Let’s begin with the basics; as a child, your heart was smaller than an adult’s. You also had a lower total blood volume (again, smaller body) and each time your heart beat it had to move less blood throughout your body. This is why children typically have higher heart rates than adults. As you age, your cardiovascular system will continue to change, and your working heart rate gradually slows down.
Origin of the 220 Minus Age Formula Came
It began in the 70s when doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service’s Program on Heart Disease needed a guideline for very sick heart patients to calculate their levels of exercise intensity.
The doctors never meant the formula they created to be used by the fitness industry.
But, it was an easy to remember formula that anyone could quickly work out in their heads. For the past forty years, this method has been designed into heart rate monitors, plastered on gym walls, and written into almost every health-related textbook.
Why the formula should be Different for Women
Women are advised to use a slightly modified version of this calculation that is based on a sixteen-year study that tracked women exercising on a treadmill.
Researchers concluded that women were at a higher risk for cardiac events when working out using the old maximum heart rate calculations. The advice for women according to this research is to instead subtract 88% of your age from 206 and try to keep within 65 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR).
Optimal Fat Burning Heart Rate
First, we’ll calculate the optimal heart rate to stay in the fat-burning zone; there is both a high and low number which will represent your fat-burning range. One caveat; we burn fat in each of the four zones – but the fat burning zone is the heart rate range where you want to be to maximize your workout efforts for fat loss.
Start by dividing your reserve heart rate in half, and then add that number to your resting heart rate to discover the lowest bpm to enter this zone.
Then calculate what is 75% of the reserve heart rate, add it to the resting heart rate figure, and you’ll have the highest heart rate you can maintain and still stay in the Fat-Burning Zone.
Here are the calculations written out in an easy to use formula – just plug your numbers in to get the right answer:
- (Reserve HR x 0.5) + Resting HR = Lowest HR of the fat-burning zone
- (Reserve HR x 0.75) + Resting HR = Highest HR of the Fat-Burning Zone
The Aerobic Zone
Next, we’ll find out what your ideal heart rate range is for aerobic conditioning – you’ll stay in this heart rate range if your goal is to develop greater aerobic endurance.
Find 75% of the reserve heart rate you already calculated and then add it to your resting heart rate to learn what the low end of your aerobic zone is. Next, figure 85% of your reserve heart rate and add it to your resting heart rate. This number is the highest heart rate you can maintain and stay in your Aerobic Zone.
Here are the formulas to make calculations easy:
(Reserve HR x .75) + Resting HR = Lowest HR to stay in the aerobic zone
(Reserve HR x .85) + Resting HR = Highest HR to stay in the aerobic zone
This is the range where you’ll be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone; the aerobic/anaerobic threshold, alternately called the lactate threshold. This is the range most important for improving your athletic ability.
We find the heart rate range for this zone by taking 85% of the reserve heart rate and then adding it to the resting heart rate to get the lower end of this zone. To get the higher end, you’ll need to calculate 90% of your reserve heart rate and add it to the resting heart rate figure.
Use this to make it easier:
- (Reserve HR x .85) + Resting HR = lowest heart rate to stay in the Aerobic/Anaerobic Zone
- (Reserve HR x .90) + Resting HR = highest heart rate to stay in the Aerobic/Anaerobic Zone
The Anaerobic Zone Range
This is when you’re pushing yourself to the utmost. In this zone your heart is pounding, your lungs are on fire – and seconds can seem like hours. But, this is the all-out effort needed to best build your anaerobic ability (running, biking or swimming sprints). You might as well call this the red-line zone.
This time we’re taking 90% of the reserve heart rate figure and then adding it to our resting heart rate to find the lowest end required to stay in this zone.
Finally, take your reserve heart rate number and add it to your resting heart rate do this to get the highest heart rate you can achieve to stay in the anaerobic Zone.
One last time; two easy formula you can use to make the calculations:
(Reserve HR x .90) + Resting HR = lowest HR of the anaerobic zone
(Reserve HR x .100) + Resting HR = highest HR of the anaerobic zone
If you like to try an alternative formula to calculate your MHR, you can try taking 70% of your age and then subtract that number from 208.
This is a formula developed by Dr. Douglas Seals and first published in 2001. It calculates a much higher MHR for seniors.
Of course, if you prefer to avoid any math – you can also measure your work level by these simple rules of thumb:
- At moderate intensity, you can speak comfortably, but not sing
- At high intensity, you should be able to talk briefly without gasping for breath.
Sadly, summer’s over – the days are getting shorter, and the mornings chillier.
All those fun summer activities that helped you burn calories, stay fit, and stock up on healthy vitamin D won’t be feasible for much longer. How will you keep fit as the cold weather season approaches?
Fall doesn’t have to mean packing on the weight while hibernating in front of the TV. Cooler temps may mean the end of weekend beach fun and hours of fat burning action in the local pool; but it doesn’t have to mean the end of healthy, outdoor, fitness-enhancing activity!
Here are 12 ways to cold weather proof your workouts, and enjoy the season while keeping fit.
Seek Out Fun Fall Activities
Every season of the year has its unique charms:
Winter – Has the joys of the holidays and New Year’s fun. The beauty of falling snow turns local parks into a fairy land of new and inspiring sights.
Spring – Brings warm breezes, sunny days, and the rebirth of new flowers, green grass, and longer days.
Summer – Is when every weekend is a chance to enjoy sun, surf, icy treats, and endless days of outdoor action.
Fall – Is traditionally a spooky time of haunted houses and the melancholy that comes with summer’s end and a return to school runs, cold rain, and swiftly shrinking daylight hours.
I think autumn gets a bad rap; Halloween parties are a blast, picking pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns, that smoky smell from freshly lit fireplaces around your neighborhood, and the prospect of Thanksgiving just on the horizon makes September an exciting time!
Instead of the pool or beach, you have apple picking, long walks under brightly colored fall leaves, and no more worries about overheating on your daily jogs.
How About Something Different?
Whatever your fitness routine was during the summer; you’re sure to be a little bored with it by this point. Why not make fall the time to try something new?
How about taking dance classes at a local studio or getting into indoor cycling? There are so many ways to stay active that you can always find something new to get excited about.
Variety isn’t just the spice of life – it’s the best way to beat boredom and stay enthusiastic about working out!
Find Ways to Fit In Working Out
Fall means school runs and after school activities that can keep you sitting around for extended periods of time; how about fitting in some calorie burning action while you wait?
If you’re waiting for ballet or karate to let out, try finding a quiet corner to do a series of yoga moves or calisthenics exercises. Hanging out on the sidelines of a football or soccer practice? Then come prepared to do sprints on an unused section of the field!
Regardless of the temperatures outside, your body still needs to stay hydrated.
It’s easy to forget that simple fact as the air cools and we bundle into jackets and sweaters. Exercising in cool weather still draws moisture out of your body through both respiration and perspiration. Bring water with you whenever you enjoy outdoor, physical activity.
Get Enough Sleep
Daylight savings time and the growing periods of darkness can disturb your sleep patterns.
Not getting enough sleep can make you crave sugary snacks and encourage your body to put on unwanted weight. Make sure that you’re getting the amount of sleep that you need to wake refreshed and ready for the challenges of the day.
Chores Are Exercise Too
Whether you’re raking leaves, prepping the garden for next year, or chopping wood for the fireplace; you’re also burning loads of calories and exercising your muscles as if you were at the gym!
Take advantage of these typical fall chores to enjoy healthy and productive exercise that will help keep you ‘beach body’ trim until the warm weather returns.
Increase Your Visibility
Shorter days mean that you’ll probably find yourself getting your outdoor exercise under a dark sky.
Wear a reflective safety vest, led safety lights, and carry a flashlight with you to ensure that motorists and others know where you are on bike rides or runs through parks, town or down quiet roads.
As chilly as you may feel before you get started, once you’re moving you’re going to heat up.
If you wear a single layer of heavy clothing, you may find yourself uncomfortably sweaty under that jacket or thick sweater. Instead, you should dress in layers, preferably relying on sports clothes designed to wick moisture away from the body.
Dressed appropriately it’ll be easy to open a couple of zippers or undue a few buttons as you heat up during your workout.
Give Your Fitness a HIIT
It’s understandable that the typically dreary autumn weather doesn’t encourage spending too much time outdoors.
Consider incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise into your routine.
HIIT workouts can be as simple as sprinting in for 5 cycles of 30 seconds running with 10-15 seconds of rest between sets – studies have shown that HIIT is an effective way to build fitness and burn fat without the time commitment that more conventional training can require.
This is probably the hardest thing anyone can try to do over the cold weather season.
Between Halloween, Thanksgiving, and cozy nights spent on the couch – there are too many opportunities to indulge in tasty sweets and other calorie rich foods. You need to remind yourself that the more you give in; the harder it’s going to be to look trim come spring and summer.
Rock Your Favorite Tunes
Nothing motivates you like listening to your favorite tunes while you’re working out!
Take inventory of the songs you’ve been listening to all summer and change it up. Find new music that will put pep in your step and give you that push you need to get through that tough, last 10 minutes of training.
It’s All about Your Attitude
Summer’s over, get over it.
You can’t do anything about the weather, but you can absolutely change your attitude. Focus on the best things about fall and winter; there’s a lot to love:
- No more stifling heat
- Enjoying that hot cup of tea before bed without breaking into a sweat
- It’s not ‘too hot’ to exercise anymore
- You can wear your favorite sweater again
Most importantly; you get another chance to shock everybody with how good you look when it’s beach time again!
If you haven’t already established a healthy exercise routine – then start one! When you begin an exercise routine; it’s most important to set a routine in the beginning and stick to it, regardless of the time of day.
But, for those of us who already make fitness an important part of our lives when we train can be an important consideration: When is the best time of day to exercise to get the results we want, perform best or maximize our weight loss efforts?
Let’s take a look at the advantages, benefits, drawbacks, and science of physical activity earlier or later in the day for health, peak performance, weight loss or building muscle.
The Best Time to Exercise for Weight Loss
It goes without saying that the best way to maintain a healthy weight, besides counting calories, to engage in regular physical activity. But, does exercising at a particular time of day help maximize the effects of exercise on burning excess body fat?
If you want the most effect from your weight loss efforts, a groundbreaking research study indicates that you might do best by setting your alarm earlier and doing your exercising before eating breakfast.
Running on Empty
There is substantial evidence that exercising on a completely empty stomach (a fasted state) — prompts your body to burn more fat and even prevent weight gain when compared to exercising at other times of the day.
Researchers in Belgium recruited young, healthy men to subsist for one and a half months on a diet that consisted of thirty-percent more calories and fifty-percent more fat than they had previously been eating.
One group of volunteers remained sedentary while another group started a strenuous, mid-morning training routine after they had eaten breakfast. A third group followed the same workout routine, but before eating.
At the end of the study, the sedentary group gained roughly six pounds each. This group also developed increased insulin resistance and had a higher body mass index (BMI) than before. Meanwhile, the men who trained after breakfast had also gained weight (three pounds each) and developed greater insulin resistance. But, incredibly, the men who had exercised before eating anything in the morning gained almost no weight and maintained healthy insulin levels. Significantly; they were burning more fat throughout the day than were the other men in the study.
Fasting is the Key
The most convenient way to train in a fasted state is after a good night’s sleep, but the results of this study clearly show that the benefits came from training on an empty stomach, not from the exact time that the test subjects exercised.
If you work nights, or on a rotating shift – you can easily get the benefits of training in a fasted state by exercising upon awakening (but before eating), regardless of the hour you get up.
Morning Exercise for Restful Sleep
It turns out that increased weight loss isn’t the only benefit from starting your day with a good sweat – morning exercise has been shown to also improve the quality of your sleep. A better night’s rest will ensure that you’re more likely to start your morning exercise sessions – which will help you burn more body fat!
Mornings Beat Insomnia
Insomnia is also a risk factor for obesity; consistently restful sleep is an enjoyable and easy way to keep a healthy weight- morning exercise will help you get the rest you need when you need it.
How About Building Muscle?
Of particular interest to men – what’s the best time of day to train for increased muscle size?
Testosterone Peaks Early in the Day
Unsurprisingly, you need to concern yourself with the time of day when your testosterone (male hormone) levels are at their highest – in the middle of the morning; this is when your blood testosterone levels are at their best.
What if you can’t consistently weight train that early? There’s nothing to worry about. Even though your male hormone levels peak earlier, your muscular strength hits a peak in the early evening hours. Since lifting more weight stimulates greater strength and mass gains; hitting the gym right after work can be an effective alternate option.
Good Company Makes it Easier
Another benefit of exercising later in the day is – company. A workout partner can motivate you when you’re feeling lazy and make training a fun time to trade jokes and have discussions (in between sets of course).
You’ll have a better chance of finding a workout partner for late in the day training. Friends, coworkers, roommates; they’ll all be more willing to join you after school or work than they would be before breakfast!
Best Time to Exercise for Long-Term Success
What’s the best time of day to exercise if you want to stick with it long-term? Anytime that’s right for you!
You’re far more likely to establish a consistent routine if you choose the most convenient time of day for you. Of course, there are ideal times when you can do weight training, or cardio, or exercise to lose weight – but it doesn’t matter if you aren’t consistent.
Set aside a block of time in your day and stick to it! Lifelong fitness is a lifelong commitment, and you need to find the schedule that fits your lifestyle, location, and unique body clock. Morning, noon or night; when will working out be most enjoyable and easy to do? Whatever the answer is, it’ll be the right one if you’re consistent.
It’s something every single one of us has had to (or will eventually) deal with at some point in our lives. There are historical references to it going back thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all devoted part of their medical literature to healing this, sometimes terrible, pain
Lower back pain.
From that aching stiffness first thing in the morning to the debilitating agony of a slipped disk – low back pain can affect:
- Your quality of life
- Ability to work and play
- Your mood
If you’re dealing with low back pain and are wondering: What could be causing it? What can I do about it? When is it something serious? Then keep on reading and learn all about low back pain.
The spine is composed of twenty-four bones (vertebrae); the three types of vertebrae are: cervical (neck), Lumbar (back), and sacral (base of spine).
The vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs.
These are soft, gel-like discs that prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other and also act as shock absorbers.
Intervertebral Discs have two components:
- A tough outer ring: the annulus
- A jelly-like interior: the nucleus pulposus
Causes of Low Back Pain
When the annulus is damaged, the soft interior can bulge out or even squirt into the surrounding area (a herniation) impinging local nerves and frequently resulting in excruciating pain.
If a herniation occurs between the L5 and S1 vertebrae – then the L5/S1 nerves that go into the sciatic nerve (a nerve that reaches from the lower back and down each leg) will become pinched, and you’ll feel very uncomfortable.
But, sometimes there’s another reason for pain.
In a normal spine, the nerves travel through your spinal canal and spread to the body through the bilateral foramen (small openings on each side).
If any of these openings in the spine become narrowed, the nerve can be pinched and compressed.
When the foramen between the L5/S1 (low back) vertebrae narrows, it will irritate the sciatic nerve, resulting in lower back pain and; tingling, cramps (anywhere along the leg), and numbness anywhere from lower back to the bottom of the foot.
The Muscles of the Lower Back
When the muscles or ligaments in the low back are strained or torn, the area around the muscles will typically become inflamed. This inflammation may lead to back spasm, and it is the back spasm that could cause both severe lower back pain and difficulty moving.
- Muscles: Are stretchy, fibrous tissue that’s critical for moving your body; they’re connected to the bones/joints by tendons
- Tendons: Cords of tough collagen tissue attaching the muscles to your bones making it possible for the muscles to move your bones and joints
- Ligaments: Are elastic/fibrous tissue connecting bones together. They stabilize the joints while you are still, and they help prevent excessive movement that can cause injury when you’re moving
Unfortunately, these structures are all prone to pulling, twisting or tearing, which will also cause low back pain.
6 Facts about Low Back Pain
- Low back pain is the leading cause of disability according to this 2010 article in The Lancet
- Backache is one of the most often given excuses for missing work, and it’s the 2nd most common reason people visit the doctor’s office
- Half of all working people admit to having back pain symptoms each year
- It’s estimated that up to eighty percent Americans will have back pain at some point in life
- Most low back pain is not caused by serious conditions like arthritis, infection, or fracture
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs
4 Symptoms that Mean You Should See a Doctor Right Away
1) Unexplained weight loss and Back Pain
If you’re experiencing weight loss without changes in your diet or activity levels and have back pain, you should ask a doctor to check for serious issues like cancer or a hormonal disorder.
2) Trauma and Low Back Pain
A severe trauma like being in a car accident or falling from a height or flight of stairs can result in a spinal fracture (‘broken’ back). If this occurred to you and you’re suffering pain – seek out care from your doctor or an emergency room.
3) Loss of control of your bowel or bladder and Back Pain
This can indicate that you have cauda equina syndrome (CES).
If you have lower back pain with sudden incontinence; you possibly have CES (a back condition creating severe pressure on the nerves) that will require emergency medical care to prevent serious nerve damage.
4) Back Pain accompanied by Fever
Back pain with fever could indicate that you have an infected kidney or infection is some other part of your back. Your physician will determine whether you’ll need a course of antibiotics and anything else you’ll need to do to get better.
How to Treat Your Back Pain
Bed rest used to be the number one recommendation for treating back pain in general and low back pain in particular.
This advice has fallen out of favor as research showed that the people who maintained their normal daily activities recuperated much more quickly and completely than those who didn’t.
Interestingly, the same study found that performing your normal, daily activities was also more effective than performing exercises intended to strengthen and stretch the affected area!
Hot and Cold
Anecdotal evidence suggests there are real benefits to alternating the use of ice and heating pads to relieve low back pain symptoms.
Can also go along way to make the pain your suffering more bearable – just make sure you follow the dosage advice on the package.
Taking regular strolls will keep the blood flowing into the injured area (which will speed healing) and relieve stiffness while performing an activity with very little chance of causing further damage.
As hard as it may be for anyone to accept; the best treatment for low back pain that isn’t the result of trauma or an underlying health issue – is time. Most instances of low back pain will resolve within a few weeks with little or no intervention other than avoiding any activities that exacerbate the symptoms.
Ashtanga Yoga Has a Profound Impact on Health
People have been practicing (and enjoying the benefits of) Yoga for thousands of years. While its popularity has waxed and waned over the last hundred years – Yoga is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the United States. Research has proven that practicing Yoga can have a profound impact on your health.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the most physically dynamic styles of Yoga and what it could do to make you feel better, look better, restore your health, and improve your mood.
What is Ashtanga Yoga
Yoga is a three-thousand-year old practice that originates in the Indian sub-continent; the word itself means to “yoke” or “connect.” The things being connected are traditionally understood to be the body and spirit in order for practitioners to achieve liberation.
There are various styles of Yoga, and each one has a particular focus or goal. We’re going to focus on one style of physically dynamic Yoga that has enjoyed incredible popularity in the U.S. since the 1980’s; Ashtanga Yoga.
The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga actually means “eight limbs.” As a system of both physical and spiritual health maintenance, there is an underlying philosophy to Ashtanga Yoga that is divided into eight parts.
1) Yama: Restraints and moral discipline
This limb refers to the vows, discipline and practices that concern the world around us, and how we interact with it.
While practicing yoga can increase physical strength/ flexibility and also aid in calming your mind; what’s the point if you’re still stiff, weak and stressed in daily life?
Ashtanga Yoga has five Yamas; including
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (don’t steal)
- Brahmacharya (correct use of energy)
- Aparigraha (avoiding greed).
2) Niyama: Positive duties or observances
The second limb usually refers to our duties towards ourselves, but can also be considered in actions towards the world. Niyamas are traditionally practiced by people who want to build character.
3) Asana: Posture
The physical aspect of yoga is the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga. This concept means being able to repose comfortably, so you’re not “pulled” by aches and discomfort of the body or suffer restlessness from an uncomfortable position.
4) Pranayama: Breathing Techniques
The word Prana means “energy.” It is used to describe the force that keeps us alive and the energy of the universe. Prana is associated with the breath also refers to working with the way we breathe. Ashtanga Yoga teaches that controlling the breath can affect the mind in a very real way.
5) Pratyahara: Sense withdrawal
Pratya means to withdraw or draw in. The second part ahara means anything we absorb; the various sights, sounds and smells we perceive continuously.
6) Dharana: Focused concentration
Dharana means focused concentration. Dha means maintaining, and Ana means something else. Visualization and focusing on the breath are practices of dharana and are what we generally think of as meditation.
7) Dhyana: Meditative absorption
The seventh limb is when we become completely absorbed in whatever we’re meditating on.
8) Samadhi: Enlightenment
This is thought of as the final step of the Ashtanga Yoga journey.
Ashtanga Yoga may have lofty spiritual goals built into it – but we’re going to look at some of the scientifically verified benefits of this ancient practice that will allow to you reap some incredible real-world health benefits.
Ashtanga Yoga and Flexibility
The postures of Ashtanga Yoga are an effective way to build and maintain a high degree of muscular flexibility that will make daily movement easier and prevent the injuries that can come from making sudden moves or being accidentally forced to move a joint or muscle beyond the typical range of motion.
According to a study conducted by the Journal of Athletic Training: Increased flexibility is positively correlated with reduced muscle soreness and incidence of injury in the physically active.
Research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine has discovered that female test subjects who completed an eight-month course of Ashtanga Yoga practice experienced a significant increase in muscle strength and flexibility. The conclusion of this study was that Ashtanga Yoga is an effective alternative to conventional strength training.
Ashtanga Yoga is Heart-Healthy
A research study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology strongly suggests that Yoga has genuine benefits for heart health by mitigating or reversing cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors that may lead to disease.
Ashtanga Yoga and Mental Health
There is concrete evidence that practicing Ashtanga Yoga is an effective way to improve mood, relieve depression, and help maintain a positive outlook on life according to a paper in the journal Mindfulness.
Study participants were required to complete at least two Ashtanga Yoga classes per week for a period of nine weeks. Research subjects who completed the full nine-week course reported significant improvements in:
- Feelings of depression and anxiety
- Interpersonal functioning related to assertiveness,
- Increased attention to self-needs
- Capacity to connect
Your Bones Will Benefit
There is conclusive, research-based evidence that Ashtanga Yoga has a positive effect on bone density in postmenopausal women. The study followed 34 pre and postmenopausal women over eight months to determine what effect if any, that Ashtanga Yoga would have on bone health.
Participants who took two one-hour long classes per week showed measurable improvements in bone mineralization. The researchers further conclude that Yoga practice on a more frequent schedule will likely result in even greater improvements than they observed.
Improving Balance and Stability
People who are visually impaired are at greater risk for falls due to the lack of visual input to establish balance. In this study, scientists evaluated an Ashtanga-based Yoga Therapy program as a multi-sensory intervention to improve postural stability in individuals with a severe visual handicap.
They found that Ashtanga-based Yoga therapy was an effective way to increase balance and physical stability in people who are unable to orient themselves using visual cues. It’s reasonable to assume that these benefits may extend to many people who suffer balance issues or wish to increase improve balance and stability to avoid being injured in avoidable falls.
An Ancient Practice with Health Benefits for Today
Enduring for over three-thousand years; Ashtanga Yoga has improved the health of countless people around the world. Beyond the proven physical benefits, Ashtanga has an effect on psychological health not found in conventional western-based exercise practices. It’s truly a case of “what’s old is new again.” Try it out! Find a nearby class and see how it makes you feel. You may discover a new and exciting road to greater vitality and a unique mental outlook that may buffer you against the challenges of your daily life.