Incontinence and cognitive impairment are two of the most prevalent problems experienced by aging adults, affecting an estimated 25 million and 16 million Americans, respectively. But two new studies point to the possibility that yoga and laughter could help alleviate these age-related issues.
Yoga combats urinary incontinence
Yoga is well known for its ability to strengthen and stretch a person’s muscles, as well as their mind, but researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have discovered that a specially-designed yoga program could help women who are battling urinary incontinence.
After participating in a six-week yoga therapy program, women with urinary incontinence saw a 70 percent decrease in leakage incidents. The women in the study’s control group—those who did not do yoga—only saw a 13 percent reduction in incontinence incidences. Overall, women who were suffering from stress incontinence—a condition where pressure due to sneezing, coughing, laughing or lifting heavy objects causes urine leakage—experienced the greatest improvement in their symptoms.
Study authors attribute the relaxation techniques and stronger muscles achieved through regular yoga practice to the marked improvement experienced by the women who participated in the course.
“We thought this would be a good opportunity for women to use yoga to become more aware of and have more control over their pelvic floor muscles,” says lead study author, Alison Huang, MD, assistant professor at the UCSF School of Medicine, in a university press release. Huang also points out that the unique yoga program tested in the study is safe for older adults and those with limited mobility—in other words, those individuals who are most likely to be dealing with urinary incontinence.
Laughter defends against age-related brain damage
Having a laugh may do more than temporarily lift your spirits; it may also protect your brain against age-related damage.
A new Loma Linda University study found that showing seniors a 20-minute funny video not only decreased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood, but also increased their ability to remember and learn new information. While presenting his team’s findings at the recent Experimental Biology meeting in San Francisco, study author Lee Berk, DrPH, says their conclusions highlight the connection between stress and memory, as well as the benefits of humor for aging adults.
Long-term exposure to high levels of cortisol can have a deleterious effect on the brain. People who experience prolonged periods of stress show shrinkage in the hippocampus (which is essential for memory formation and function) and the prefrontal cortex (which aids in problem-solving, glucose metabolism and control of impulse behaviors).
Research has shown that lowering one’s cortisol levels can also enhance immune system functioning, decrease inflammation, lower blood pressure and result in better weight management, regardless of a person’s age.
Beyond laughter, other ways to reduce the amount of stress-induced chemicals in your body include, mindfulness meditation, exercise, listening to music and maintaining connections with close friends and family.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor