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7 Reasons Yoga Is So Good For Midlife Women

Written by: Sharon Jane Ripley, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

You may have heard about the benefits of yoga when it comes to reducing stress, but there are many other reasons this practice is so good for your midlife health. I admit that I've been aware of some of these benefits for decades, but it wasn't until I had gone through menopause that I felt compelled to begin using this timeless practice with any sort of regularity.


I think the main reason I didn’t start sooner (although I wish I had) was because I had difficulty setting aside the time each morning when my very long “to-do” list was beckoning me to get going and be productive.

After all, isn't that how we measure a successful day by checking off as many of those tasks and goals as possible? Perhaps in part. But I have since come to realize that accomplishments are only one measure of success. Living a balanced life is another.


As I went through menopause and began experiencing a decline in my energy levels, I was forced to slow down and take a look at how I was spending that energy. This meant re-evaluating my priorities and paring down my daily, weekly, and monthly "to-do" lists, which were becoming increasingly unrealistic and overwhelming. I became very aware of which activities were draining my energy and which ones were giving me energy.


Yoga was one of those life-giving activities. So I began starting my days with 30 minutes of yoga, and it felt like I was setting the tone for the rest of the day. The message I was sending my body was that I care about it, I appreciate all that it does for me, and I want a reciprocal and healthy relationship with it. The message I was sending my mind was that there's enough time to get the important things done that day, and it's okay to slow down and gently ease my way into the day. The message I was sending my spirit is that I’m grateful to be alive and connected to something greater than myself. And these have proven to be very health-giving messages!


I'll be honest, some days, I still struggle to make yoga a priority (old patterns die hard), but every time I do, I feel so much better during the rest of my day. I’m a lot less anxious and feel like I’m focused more on the quality of my “doing” than the quantity. I bring more presence to my tasks and feel like I'm working smarter, not harder.


So why is yoga so beneficial? Well, in general terms, it integrates mind, body, and soul and therefore impacts our mental, physical and spiritual health. It does this by combining gentle, mindful movement with conscious breathing, both of which have been shown to counter many of the effects of aging. The mind-body awareness through movement and breath is what connects us to our life force. And the gentle nature of yoga means it can be practiced well into our senior years.


7 benefits of yoga for midlife women:


1. Stress Reduction

According to The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in the U.S., a 2014 U.K. study found “that anxiety levels were highest for people between the ages of 40 and 60, with peak anxiety levels noted in the 50-54 age group” (Midlife Anxiety by Dr. Andrew Rosen ‒ July 23, 2018). This may be due to several factors, including underlying health issues, divorce, and financial stress.


However, this is also the same age range that most women are entering perimenopause or menopause, a time when hormonal fluctuations can create disturbing changes in our brain chemistry. So, not only are women typically dealing with more life challenges at this time in their lives, their ability to cope with the added stress is compromised.


We can mitigate the impact of these changes by addressing our stress, especially if we are experiencing chronic anxiety, insomnia, irritability, depression, or other mood changes. Yoga’s ability to relax both the mind and body is why it’s so effective at relieving stress. Lower stress levels have also been shown to reduce hot flashes, weight gain, high blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease.


2. Muscle Strengthening and Toning

As reported in an article by Harvard Health Publishing, “Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade.” (Preserve Your Muscle Mass, Feb.19, 2016).


Why is this important as we transition through midlife? Not only do strong muscles increase our metabolic rate and assist with weight management, but they also help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of a bone fracture due to osteoporosis, a condition that is four times more common in women than in men (Alswat KA. Gender Disparities in Osteoporosis. J Clin Med Res. 2017;9(5):382-387. doi:10.14740/jocmr2970w).


Good muscle tone is the muscle's ability to respond to a sudden force and reduces the risk of a muscle-related injury. In particular, improving muscle support around the joints relieves pressure and helps protect them. The result is less joint pain and improved flexibility, mobility, and posture.


The gentle stretching and weight-bearing postures of yoga make it an excellent way to strengthen and tone your muscles. There are also specific yoga postures that can target and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, thereby reducing the incidence of stress incontinence (another common complaint of midlife women).


3. Improved Balance, Coordination & Stability

We all know that good balance and coordination reduce the risk of falling and injuring oneself. This becomes even more important as we age, and our bones become more fragile due to the hormonal changes of menopause.


Yoga’s balancing postures require coordinated movements and develop muscles that might not otherwise get strengthened, thereby improving our stability. This is something I can personally attest to!


These postures also enhance focus and concentration, which tend to wane as our hormones plummet. All of these benefits improve our quality of life and give us the confidence to remain active in our midlife years and beyond.


4. Enhanced Lung Function

One of the more alarming menopausal symptoms I experienced was shortness of breath. I say "alarming" because this symptom is often associated with heart or lung disease.


But I was somewhat relieved to discover that it’s also a common side-effect of declining estrogen levels which affect our mucous membranes, and the lungs are no exception. Lower mucous production in the lung tissues means a decreased capacity for expansion, resulting in less oxygen getting into the blood.


You may notice you become breathless going up the stairs, for example, or you may have less exercise tolerance than you did in your younger years. But there are things you can do to mitigate the impact menopause is having on your lungs.


The deep breathing inherent in any yoga practice exercises the lungs and improves oxygenation of the whole body. I experienced this benefit firsthand when I began using an oxygen saturation monitor and noticed that my oxygen levels did indeed improve after my morning yoga practice.


5. Increased Blood Flow

We all know that exercise increases blood flow, and yoga is a gentle form of exercise that does indeed get the blood pumping.


Not only does good blood flow improve oxygenation of the body's tissues, but it also increases the delivery of nutrients, such as glucose, to those tissues. This is achieved by an increase in cardiac output in conjunction with blood vessel dilation, which helps maintain their elasticity and regulate blood pressure.


These benefits are especially significant when it comes to reducing our risk of heart disease and dementia as we age.


6. Improved Lymphatic Flow & Drainage

This is something we don't hear much about, but good lymphatic flow is essential to health, vitality, and longevity.


Our lymphatic system is a second circulatory system composed of lymph vessels rather than blood vessels. But unlike blood flow which relies on the heart’s pumping action, lymph flow depends on a synchronized network of valves and lymphatic muscle cells.


In addition to maintaining fluid levels in our bodies, our lymphatic system is also responsible for removing cellular waste from our tissues, including cancer cells. It is also an integral part of our immune system, producing white blood cells and other immune cells that monitor and destroy things like parasites, viruses, and bacteria.


The simple movements and deep diaphragmatic breathing of yoga are a great way to encourage lymph flow and reap these important health benefits.


7. Easy on the Body

One of the things I like most about yoga is that it's a low-impact form of exercise that will meet you where you are in terms of your mobility, flexibility, and fitness level. You can start with the simple versions of the postures and work your way up to the more difficult ones as you build more confidence.


I've even seen chair versions of yoga for people with mobility issues or difficulty supporting their weight. So, as you can see, there are very few people who can’t benefit from a regular yoga practice.


Conclusion

I’m sure a yoga expert could list many other advantages not mentioned here, but I feel these are the ones most relevant to women’s midlife health. If you’re not already incorporating yoga into your daily routine, I hope this article gives you some compelling reasons to do so.


As with any new practice, try starting with a frequency of once a week and see how you feel. Then gradually work your way up to practicing a few times a week until you’re comfortable with a daily practice.


Try not to fall into the trap of, what I like to call, all-or-nothing thinking. If your practice stalls, please resist the temptation to throw in the towel. It takes time to establish a new habit or routine, so celebrate the days you do follow through. Once a week is better than not at all, and your body will thank you!


Here are a couple of links to help you get started. These two videos are part of a free online course on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) generously offered by Palouse Mindfulness. (I’ve taken this course and highly recommend it.)

Need help incorporating yoga or other healthy habits into your life?


Feel free to connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and visit my website for more info!

 

Sharon Jane Ripley, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Sharon Jane Ripley is a certified health and life coach who works with midlife women that feel frustrated and discouraged by the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing due to the menopausal transition.

She takes a holistic and compassionate approach to helping women make the dietary and lifestyle changes necessary to improve their quality of life by addressing mind, body, and spirit as an integrated whole. The result is a more balanced, peaceful yet vibrant life, giving women renewed confidence and passion in their midlife years and beyond.

Sharon began her career life as a biochemist but after many twists and turns, which included two cancer diagnoses and a very challenging midlife transition of her own, she discovered her passion for helping other women navigate their midlife journeys.


She now uses her rich and diverse life experience, and training as a mastery-level mindset coach, to inspire and empower women to make the changes they desire, and to embrace this phase of their lives as a wonderful opportunity for growth, healing, and transformation.

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