A MAJOR study will look at how yoga can help older people with multiple long-term health conditions.

The four year, £1.4 million study at Northumbria University, Newcastle, is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).

In the UK, two thirds of people over 65 have two or more long-term health conditions such a diabetes, heart disease, asthma and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Evidence shows they are more likely to have reduced physical function, lower quality of life and life expectancy and need support with mental health issues.

The more health problems someone has, the more they will consult a GP, be prescribed drugs and be admitted to hospital.

As treatment for long-term health conditions accounts for 70 per cent of NHS expenditure, the study aims to determine both the clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of a specially-adapted yoga programme for older adults with multimorbidity.

Associate Professor Garry Tew, of 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 from across 12 different locations in the UK.

They will be randomly put into two groups.

One will receive their usual care while the second continue their care alongside weekly group-based yoga sessions and encouragement to perform specific yoga practices at home.

The British Wheel of Yoga’s 12 week Gentle Years Yoga programme, for the second group, adapts common yoga poses so they can be done using chairs, so people with long-term conditions such as osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and dementia can safely participate.

The participants’ progress will be assessed after three, six and twelve months to monitor changes in their quality of life and mental health.

Prof Tew said: “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.

“Our study will establish the effects of the Gentle Years Yoga programme in this population. A primary focus will be the effect of the programme on peoples’ overall quality of life. We will also review any changes in their reported levels of depression and anxiety and if they are having fewer falls because of improvements in physical function.

“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 the study follows the success of a Yorkshire-based pilot trial of the Gentle Years Yoga programme, led by Professor Tew in 2016. He said as well as the benefits of exercise, yoga classes provide a social element to help to reduce isolation.