Want another reason to pull out your yoga mat? New research shows yoga strengthens bones—including hard-to-repair vertebrae. Even better? It takes just 12 minutes a day to get this yoga benefit.
Collecting the findings has been a labor of love for Loren M. Fishman, M.D., a physiatrist at Columbia University who’s been using yoga to help patients overcome medical conditions for years, and has written extensively on its beneficial effects. For this research, which spanned ten years, he recruited 741 volunteers, taking baseline bone-density measurements of their hips, spines and femurs. Fishman, who practices yoga himself, then gave the subjects a DVD with very basic poses. Once they became familiar with the moves, the entire sequence took just 12 minutes a day. The people who stuck with this yoga routine at least every other day made significant improvements in the density of their femurs and more surprisingly, their spines, “which are typically the hardest bones to reverse thinning in,” Fishman says. Bone-density improvement “was better than most drugs.”
The people who stuck with this yoga routine at least every other day made significant improvements in the density of their femurs and more surprisingly, their spines.
But the biggest—and most encouraging—surprise? “There was not a single fracture,” he says, even though more than 80% of the subjects in the study had osteoporosis or osteopenia, the condition that typically precedes it.
The findings are important, Fishman says, because poor bone health is such a pressing issue, costing about $50 billion annually. Drugs used to treat bone problems are expensive and often come with ghastly side effects.
Yoga has side effects, too: Less anxiety, better sleep, better posture, more strength, and greater range of motion. Yoga further protects bones, he says, because it mitigates falling.
While the average age of people in Fishman’s study was 68, with 83% suffering from osteoporosis or osteopenia, the results also provide plenty of incentive for healthy people in midlife to start a yoga practice and osteoporosis exercises, keeping bones stronger as they age. (Fishman sells a DVD of the poses at his website, sciatica.org, where you can also preview the 12 moves.)
As he developed the program, he got plenty of pushback from yoga pros who didn't think he could possibly deliver yoga benefits with just 12 minutes of daily practice (many classes are 75 or even 90 minutes long for full yoga benefits). “And many told me it was unsafe for people with osteoporosis to twist, so one of the most gratifying parts of this research was finding that twists are both safe and beneficial.” So go head. Say om. Your boneswill thank you.