A major £1.4m study investigating the benefits that yoga brings to older people with multiple long-term health conditions is about to begin at Northumbria University, Newcastle.
The four-year study is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and follows evidence that people with a number of long-term health conditions are more likely to have reduced physical function, lower quality of life and life expectancy, combined with more need for support with mental health issues.
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.
The study therefore aims to determine both the clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of a specially-adapted yoga programme.
Associate Professor Garry Tewof 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, defined as having two or more long-term health conditions.
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.
“We’ll also be measuring participants’ use of health care resources, which will allow us to establish the cost-effectiveness of the yoga programme. If these results are positive, they will provide evidence for healthcare commissioners to fund yoga within the NHS.”
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.
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.
“As well as the benefits that exercising brings, the yoga classes also provided a social element, with the opportunity to establish new friendships that help to reduce any feelings of isolation that people might be feeling. “
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