100-year-old British woman credits longevity to yoga

“Great grandmother Jean Dawson celebrated her 100th birthday on February 20, and she credits her longevity to a simple habit she picked up when she was 67: yoga”.

It’s a lovely story and there is lots of evidence that yoga adds to quality of life. It also feels like it should be good for you. But as I’ve said in a previous post there’s surprisingly little hard evidence that yoga leads to a longer life. The best I could find was this small study from India which suggests that there may be health benefits and they might improve longevity. However a larger review into the health benefits of yoga in preventing cardiovascular disease concluded that the few positive studies were ‘small, short term and low quality’.

So until we have some positive results from large, long-term and high quality studies you should probably continue with yoga for the sense of wellbeing rather than any extra years.

Source: 100 year old British woman credits longevity to yoga

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STORY SO FAR: top-rated ways to live to 100

Twenty entries in to our ‘101 ways to live to 100′ and already one or two trends are emerging. Alcohol and religion both turn up in quite a few of our centenarians’ secrets to longevity, as does chocolate. So far, no one has mentioned genetics (though a few have mentioned ‘family’). And our surprise leader is mountaineering.

Our league table below is surely the only time these words have ever appeared in a list together:

9/10: Mountaineering
8/10: A loving family; Be happy and enjoy life;
7/10: A good doctor; praising God
6/10: One meal a day; sleep; hard work
5/10: ChocolateMonogamy; Guinness; Yoga; a lot of booze
4/10: Two raw eggs;
3/10: Work less overtime;
2/10: Bacon
1/10: Water from a wishing well
0/10: Pearls
No score: Good food; stem cells

Back soon with: Does a sense of humour help you live longer?

Secret no.14 Yoga

103-year-old Lil Hansen is clear that yoga is key to her long life – and not just practicing it. Every Wednesday, Lil drives to her local senior centre and leads 30 other seniors in their yoga class. As Vickie Collins, director of the Michigan centre, says ‘Reaching 103 is amazing, but reaching 103 and still driving and doing yoga is truly amazing.’

Lil herself is more self-effacing: ‘I make it up as I go,’ she says. ‘As long as they enjoy it, I will enjoy doing it. They’re not ready to get rid of me yet, so I have to stick around for a while.”

Her class has been running for 30 years, taking a break only last year as Lil recovered from a fall in which she broke her hand, knee and foot. She also credits yoga with helping her recover.

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 10. Lil is by no means alone in claming yoga as one of the keys to longevity. We can dismiss some of the more outlandish claims – of yogi who lived to over 200, or even 300, years old – but there is plenty of evidence that yoga has a positive effect on aspects of physical health such as balance and flexibility.

Practitioners of yoga also talk about effects on mental heatlh such as stress, depression and anxiety, and one study by Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg suggests that yogic breathing (pranayama) could potentially have a positive effect on factors associated with longevity. One 92-year-old yogi says ‘Take it from me, a regular, dedicated yoga practice is the key to a long and health life.

Overall, though, there’s surprisingly little hard evidence that yoga improves lifespan (more on this in a later post here). But here’s the thing: people don’t practice yoga because they want to live longer, they do it because they want to live better. If they get a few extra years, that’s a bonus. And, as we’ve seen before, having a motivation, any motivation – whether it’s taking a yoga class or teaching one – can be more important than its precise nature.

As Lil says of her teaching: ‘It makes me get up in the morning.’