Flexibility training responses to distinct stretching techniques are not well defined, especially in the elderly. This study compared the flexibility of elderly individuals before and after having practiced hatha yoga and calisthenics for 1 year (52 weeks), at least 3 times/week. Sixty-six subjects (12 men) measured and assigned to 3 groups: control (n = 24, age = 67.7±6.9 years), hatha yoga (n = 22, age = 61.2±4.8 years), and calisthenics (n = 20, age = 69.0±5.8 years). The maximal range of passive motion of 13 movements in 7 joints was assessed by the Flexitest, comparing the range obtained with standard charts representing each arc of movement on a discontinuous and non-dimensional scale from 0 to 4. Results of individual movements were summed to define 4 indexes (ankle+knee, hip+trunk, wrist+elbow, and shoulder) and total flexibility (Flexindex). Results showed significant increases of total flexibility in the hatha yoga group (by 22.5 points) and the calisthenics group (by 5.8 points) (p < 0.01 for each) and a decrease in the control group (by 2.1 points) (p < 0.01) after one year of intervention. Between-group comparison showed that increases in the hatha yoga group were greater than in the calisthenics group for most flexibility indexes, particularly the overall flexibility (p <0.05). In conclusion, the practice of hatha yoga (i.e., slow/passive movements) was more effective in improving flexibility compared to calisthenics (i.e., fast/dynamic movements), but calisthenics was able to prevent flexibility losses observed in sedentary elderly subjects.
Keywords: aging; elderly; health; physical fitness; physical training; stretching; yoga.