Yoga Is as Good as Stretching-Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016 Mar;71(3):406-11. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glv127. Epub 2015 Aug 22.


Background: Despite yoga's popularity, few clinical trials have employed rigorous methodology to systematically explore its functional benefits compared with more established forms of exercise. The objective of this study was to compare the functional benefits of yoga with the conventional stretching-strengthening exercises recommended for adults.

Methods: Sedentary healthy adults (N = 118; M age = 62.0) participated in an 8-week (three times a week for 1 hour) randomized controlled trial, which consisted of a Hatha yoga group (n = 61) and a stretching-strengthening exercise group (n = 57). Standardized functional fitness tests assessing balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility were administered at baseline and postintervention.

Results: A repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance showed a significant time effect for measures of balance [F(3,18) = 4.88, p < .01, partial η(2) = .45], strength [F(2,19) = 15.37, p < .001, partial η(2) = .62], flexibility [F(4,17) = 8.86, p < .001, partial η(2) = .68], and mobility [F(2,19) = 8.54, p < .002, partial η(2) = .47]. Both groups showed significant improvements on measures of balance (left-right leg and four square step); strength (chair stands and arm curls); flexibility (back scratch and sit-and-reach); and mobility (gait speed and 8-feet up and go), with partial η(2) ranging from .05 to .47.

Conclusions: These data suggest that regular yoga practice is just as effective as stretching-strengthening exercises in improving functional fitness. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine functional benefits of yoga in comparison with stretching-strengthening exercises in sedentary, healthy, community-dwelling older adults. These findings have clinical implications as yoga is a more amenable form of exercise than strengthening exercises as it requires minimal equipment and can be adapted for individuals with lower levels of functioning or disabilities.

Trial registration: NCT01650532.

Keywords: CDC guidelines; Functional performance; Physical activity; Yoga.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises / methods*
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Yoga*

Associated data