Saturday, 18 June 2016


 Does yoga help you look younger? This is not a new question and as such not many ask this question any more as people notice that the regular practitioners of yoga look younger, healthier and happier (generalising of course). That is why there are so many scientific studies investigating the effect of yoga on aging. There are a large number of Yoga web-sites that provide you with a list of asanas to do to stay younger. I am more interested in what science says about this subject.

Indra Devi, who is the doyen of Women’s Yoga in the West. She lived a healthy and active life to the age of 102 and authored many books including “Forever young, Forever Healthy”.

A number of factors contribute to the person’s appearance, and hence the determination of the biological age compared to the chronological age.  The biological age measures (estimates) the age of cells, tissues and organs using measures such as near-point vision, acuity of hearing and systolic blood pressure (pressure in  blood vessels when the heart is pumping)[Ref.2]. The biological age is a measure of the health of the body.  Interestingly, in Ayurveda (the Ancient Indian Health Science, which is very much in practice in India and elsewhere) the aging is measured in terms of the loss of intelligence (in our cells).  As we lose the intelligence to self-repair the cells, tissues and organs we age and health deteriorates [Ref.2]. This concept of aging aligns well (but not the same of course) with the latest thinking on telomeres and their role in reproducing healthy cells and slowing aging.

Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for discovering how chromosomes are protected by telomeres (DNA cap at the end of chromosomes) and how telomerase enzyme protects telomeres [Ref.3]. The ability to reproduce healthy cells depends on the length of telomeres, which gradually reduces with cell division. As the rate of healthy cell division decreases, the number of senescent cells or dead cells increases and the biological age increases. In other words, longer telomeres keeps us looking healthier and younger.

Various factors affect the rate at which the length of telomeres deteriorate and this is equivalent to a biological clock. It appears that simple things like poor food habits, infections and more importantly chronic stress contribute to the reduction of length of telomeres, causing rapid biological aging [Ref. 1]. This is where yoga contributes significantly by reducing chronic stress and hence reducing the rate of decline of the length of telomeres and providing a good supply of telomerase enzyme.  What is more interesting is that the slowing down of the shortening of telomeres can be achieved at any age and some limited studies have demonstrated that short telomeres can be made to grow. So, there is hope for looking younger at any stage of your life [Ref. 1]. Pessimism is another factor that contributes to the shortening of telomeres [3]. Yoga is well known for bringing balance in our lives and reducing pessimism or helplessness.

Yoga does much more than slowing down the biological aging as described above. A study conducted at Ohio State University found that regular practicing of Yoga reduces inflammation causing compound called IL-6 in the bloodstream. IL-6 normally rises with age and stress. IL-6 is implicated in heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and many other diseases. Reducing IL-6 and hence inflammation is possible with regular practice of Yoga [Ref.5]

Yoga helps with good posture, smooth and comfortable movements of joints leading to graceful body movement. More importantly, yoga makes you a more grounded, balanced and satisfied human being. Yoga philosophy develops a sense of service and gratitude within you. I am sure all these things make you a better person and a much younger looking one, both externally and internally. I don’t think biological aging is the only criterion for looking younger and more attractive. Science is slowly uncovering more secrets of Yoga but there is much more to uncover.

Further Reading:
 [1]  Broad, W., The science of Yoga – The risks and rewards
 [2]  Chopra, D., 2000, Perfect Health, Three Rivers Press, NY, 390p.
[3]  Elizabeth Blackburn -  On telomeres and telemerase.  DNA capping the chromosomes)  Telemerase protect telomeres from getting shorter as the cells divide.
[4]  Ornish, Dean, 1996, Program for reversing heart disease, Ballantine Books, NY, 638p.
[5]  (on IL-6, inflammation and Yoga)[6] - on metabolic factors affecting aging.

1 comment:

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