Yoga Is as Good as Stretching–Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Background.

Despite yoga’s popularity, few clinical trials have employed rigorous methodology to systematically explore its functional benefits compared with more established forms of exercise. The objective of this study was to compare the functional benefits of yoga with the conventional stretching–strengthening exercises recommended for adults.

Methods.

Sedentary healthy adults (N = 118; Mage = 62.0) participated in an 8-week (three times a week for 1 hour) randomized controlled trial, which consisted of a Hatha yoga group (n = 61) and a stretching–strengthening exercise group (n = 57). Standardized functional fitness tests assessing balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility were administered at baseline and postintervention.

Results.

A repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance showed a significant time effect for measures of balance [F(3,18) = 4.88, p < .01, partial η2 = .45], strength [F(2,19) = 15.37, p < .001, partial η2 = .62], flexibility [F(4,17) = 8.86, p < .001, partial η2 = .68], and mobility [F(2,19) = 8.54, p < .002, partial η2 = .47]. Both groups showed significant improvements on measures of balance (left–right leg and four square step); strength (chair stands and arm curls); flexibility (back scratch and sit-and-reach); and mobility (gait speed and 8-feet up and go), with partial η2 ranging from .05 to .47.

Conclusions.

These data suggest that regular yoga practice is just as effective as stretching–strengthening exercises in improving functional fitness. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine functional benefits of yoga in comparison with stretching–strengthening exercises in sedentary, healthy, community-dwelling older adults. These findings have clinical implications as yoga is a more amenable form of exercise than strengthening exercises as it requires minimal equipment and can be adapted for individuals with lower levels of functioning or disabilities.

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