June 6, 2011 -- Practicing yoga after a stroke may help rebuild balance and prevent potentially disabling falls among the elderly, a study shows.
The study shows stroke survivors who participated in a specialized post-stroke yoga class improved their balance by up to 34%.
Researchers say the participants also experienced a big boost in their own self-confidence after their yoga practice and became more physically active in their communities.
"It also was interesting to see how much the men liked it," says researcher Arlene A. Schmid, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, in a news release.
Schmid says many of the participants wanted to continue their yoga practice at home after the study ended.
"They enjoyed it so much partly because they weren't getting any other treatment. They had already completed their rehabilitation but felt there still was room for improvement," Schmid says.
Previous research shows the risk of falls and breaking a hip increase significantly after a stroke and also increase with age.
In this small, preliminary study, researchers looked at the effects of yoga on balance and overall fitness and confidence in a group of 20 veterans who had survived a stroke.
The participants, 19 men and one woman with an average age of 66, attended an hour-long yoga class twice a week for eight weeks. The yoga therapist modified the typical yoga poses to meet the veterans’ needs.
For example, the participants initially performed the yoga poses while seated in chairs and then progressed to standing poses. Eventually, all the participants were able to perform poses on the floor.
"Everything was modified because we wanted them to be successful on day one," Schmid says. "Everyone could be successful at some level."
By the end of the study, researchers found the participants’ balance had improved by 17% on the Berg Balance Scale and by 34% on the Fullerton Balance scale. In particular, the average score on the Berg Balance Scale improved from 40 to 47, which indicates they were no longer at high risk for a fall.
The study also shows that the stroke survivors experienced improvements in endurance and self-confidence in their ability to be physically active.
Researchers say the results are preliminary and further study with a larger group of participants is needed. The results suggest that specialized yoga classes for stroke survivors may provide significant benefits in reducing the risk of falls.
The study was presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Denver.
This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.