Could yoga benefit older people with long-term health conditions?

Date: 29 November 2018

Researchers are investigating the clinical benefits and cost effectiveness of a specially-adapted yoga programme for older people with multiple long-term health conditions.

The four-year study, taking place at Northumbria University, Newcastle and funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme, follows evidence that people with a number of long-term health conditions are more likely to have reduced physical function and lower quality of life and life expectancy. This is combined with a higher need for support with mental health issues.

In the UK, two thirds of people over the age of 65 have multimorbidity, which is defined as having two or more long-term health conditions. Conditions include diabetes, heart disease and asthma, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

The more health problems someone has, the more likely they are to consult a GP, be prescribed drugs and be admitted to hospital. Treatments associated with long-term health conditions account for 70% of NHS expenditure and further research is needed to identify cost-effective treatments for this patient group.

Associate Professor Garry Tew of Northumbria’s Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, will work in partnership with the University of York and independent yoga consultants on the study. The research team will recruit almost 600 adults aged 65 and above who have multimorbidity from across 12 different locations in the UK.

The participants will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group will continue to receive their usual care without any additional support, while the second will receive their usual care plus an invitation to join the British Wheel of Yoga’s 12-week Gentle Years Yoga programme. This programme involves weekly group-based sessions and encouragement to perform specific yoga practices at home.

The participants’ progress will be assessed after three, six and twelve months to monitor changes in their quality of life and mental health.

Professor Tew specialises in researching the effects of exercise programmes in people with long-term health conditions. He explained: “Yoga is thought to bring wide-ranging benefits, such as increases in strength, flexibility, balance and quality of life, and reductions in stress, anxiety and depression. In older adults specifically, there is promising evidence that yoga can improve physical function and quality of life, but more work is needed to understand the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of yoga in older people with multimorbidity.

“Our study will establish the effects of the Gentle Years Yoga programme in this population. A primary focus will be the effect of the programme on peoples’ overall quality of life. We will also review any changes in their reported levels of depression and anxiety and if they are having fewer falls because of improvements in physical function.
“We’ll also be measuring participants’ use of health care resources, which will allow us to establish the cost-effectiveness of the yoga programme.”

The funding for this major study follows the success of a Yorkshire-based pilot trial of the Gentle Years Yoga programme, which was led by Professor Tew in 2016. The findings of the pilot supported the feasibility of conducting the current larger-scale study and provided encouraging preliminary data on the effects of the yoga programme on physical function and quality of life.

In explaining the success of this programme, Professor Tew said: “Common yoga poses are adapted so they can be done using chairs, so that inactive older adults with long-term conditions such as osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and dementia can safely participate.”

Researchers at Northumbria University are specialising in research that assesses the role of exercise in the prevention and management of long-term conditions. Academics are also investigating other factors such as nutrition, sport participation and sleep to see how they can improve people’s health. For more information on the university's research in this area, visit

For further information on this study, visit the NIHR Journals Library.

  • Summary:
    Researchers are investigating the clinical benefits and cost effectiveness of a specially-adapted yoga programme for older people with multiple long-term health conditions.
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