Research highlights positive impact of yoga and mediterranean diet on elderly health

In a recent study published in Nutrients,  researchers investigated the combined effects of yoga and the Mediterranean diet (MD) on various health outcomes in community-dwelling older adults.

Their findings indicate that this 12-week intervention significantly improved the participants' nutritional status, balance, gait, flexibility, and muscle strength.

Study: Effects of a Yoga Program Combined with a Mediterranean Diet on Nutritional Status and Functional Capacity in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Image Credit: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock.comStudy: Effects of a Yoga Program Combined with a Mediterranean Diet on Nutritional Status and Functional Capacity in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Image Credit: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock.com

Background

Spain has seen a significant increase in its older population, currently about 20%, which is projected to reach 29% by the 2060s. Aging brings physiological changes affecting nutrient absorption, appetite, and the risk of malnutrition, alongside increases in body fat and decreases in muscle mass.

Older adults also experience reduced physical functionality, including flexibility, balance, and muscle strength, due to decreased physical activity and age-related changes in connective tissue and proprioception. These changes heighten the risk of falls, injuries, and decreased quality of life.

To counter these effects, strategies like nutrition and physical exercise are essential. The MD, emphasizing plant-based foods, moderate fish, poultry, dairy, and limited red meat, provides essential nutrients to support overall health.

Physical exercise, particularly mind-body therapies like yoga, offers significant benefits. Yoga enhances nutrient assimilation and improves digestion, flexibility, range of motion, and muscle strength, contributing to better overall health and functional independence in older adults.

About the study

This study aimed to evaluate the combined impact of the MD and yoga on older adults' nutritional and functional health.

Researchers utilized a randomized controlled trial to examine the effects of a 12-week yoga and MD intervention on non-institutionalized older adults' flexibility, balance, grip strength, and lower body strength.

A sample of 118 participants aged 65 or older were recruited via phone calls and emails, meeting criteria such as no recent participation in yoga and the ability to understand the program instructions.

Participants were randomly assigned to either an experimental or a control group, each with 59 participants, using a computer-generated system, with participants and researchers blinded to group allocation.

The experimental group participated in twice-weekly yoga sessions and followed an MD diet, while the control group continued their usual activities and diet.

Data collected included demographic information, adherence to the MD, nutritional status, flexibility, balance, and muscular strength, which were assessed before and after the intervention.

The data analysis involved various statistical tests, including univariate and ANOVA, to compare pre-intervention and post-intervention outcomes, with significance set at p < 0.05 and effect sizes calculated using Cohen’s.

Findings

The study included 36.96% male and 63.04% female participants, with a high adherence rate to intervention sessions (91.6%). No injuries or negative reactions were reported.

Significant improvements were observed in various health metrics following the combined yoga and MD intervention.

Adherence to the MD showed significant group differences (and improvements over time, with a notable effect size (Cohen’s d = 2.18).  Nutritional status also improved significantly, though group differences were less pronounced (Cohen’s d = 0.05).

Balance and gait showed moderate improvements, with balance and walking showing significant differences post-intervention (Cohen’s d = 0.40 for balance, 0.42 for gait).

Flexibility improvements were significant across multiple body parts, with the right arm and left leg showing notable effect sizes (Cohen’s d = 0.43 and 0.37, respectively).

Another finding was that the group receiving the MD intervention combined with yoga training showed greater differences between the pre-intervention and post-intervention measurements for muscular strength.

Specifically, lower body and grip strength showed significant differences (Cohen’s d = 0.39 for grip strength, 0.81 for lower body strength).

Conclusions

The study concluded that a 12-week intervention, which combined an MD intervention with yoga, significantly improved nutritional status, balance, gait, fall risk, flexibility, and muscle strength in non-institutionalized older adults.

These findings align with previous research suggesting the benefits of physical exercise and MD for older adults.

The study's strengths include its randomized, controlled, and blinded design, high participant adherence, and large sample size, which enhance the validity of the results.

However, the study has limitations such as the inability to blind participants, the short-term nature of the effects evaluated, and the integrated nature of the intervention, making it difficult to isolate the specific contributions of yoga or diet alone.

Future research should consider designs with separate groups for each intervention to understand their individual effects better.

Despite these limitations, the study underscores the importance of physical exercise and dietary interventions for improving the health and well-being of older adults, potentially informing public health policies aimed at promoting healthy aging and reducing the burden of chronic diseases.

Journal reference:
  • Carcelén-Fraile, M.C., Martín-Baute, M.R., Ledesma-Cerrato, M.I.,Castellote-Caballero, Y., González-Martín, A.M., Hita-Contreras, F., Cano-Sánchez, J., Aibar-Almazán, A. (2024) Effects of a yoga program combined with a Mediterranean diet on nutritional status and functional capacity in community-dwelling older adults: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Nutrients. doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu16111601.https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/16/11/1601

Priyanjana Pramanik

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Priyanjana Pramanik

Priyanjana Pramanik is a writer based in Kolkata, India, with an academic background in Wildlife Biology and economics. She has experience in teaching, science writing, and mangrove ecology. Priyanjana holds Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation (National Centre of Biological Sciences, 2022) and Economics (Tufts University, 2018). In between master's degrees, she was a researcher in the field of public health policy, focusing on improving maternal and child health outcomes in South Asia. She is passionate about science communication and enabling biodiversity to thrive alongside people. The fieldwork for her second master's was in the mangrove forests of Eastern India, where she studied the complex relationships between humans, mangrove fauna, and seedling growth.

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