Yoga vs CBT for anxiety in older adults (plain language summary)

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a study that compared yoga and CBT for anxiety – mainly because the reporting of the study pissed me off slightly because it misrepresented what the study actually found.

Rants aside though, this is quite an interesting topic because CBT is the first port of call for the treatment of many mental health issues, including anxiety. I know this first-hand because I have been prescribed it myself. There are also tons of digital CBT solutions out there right now – eg Woebot, Bloom, Mindshift CBT* so it’s clearly a very popular treatment option.

And while I don’t doubt that it can work wonders (especially if you are prescribed one-to-one sessions, which I wasn’t), the digital version just didn’t cut it for me.** In fact, it felt like I could have done a better job of writing the content for it, having been a copywriter in health myself.

So it was interesting to see a new head-to-head study comparing yoga and CBT for anxiety, this time specifically in older adults. Especially because it has a large sample size (500 participants)!

What did the study investigate?

The researchers compared yoga and CBT in older adults, ie those over 60 years of age. Participants were split into two groups: some were given a choice of yoga or CBT, others were randomly assigned into one of the two groups. CBT was offered once a week of 10 weeks over the phone. Yoga was offered twice a week for 10 weeks through in-person classes. Various standardised questionnaires were used to evaluate worry at different time points.

What did they find?

Good news: both yoga and CBT were effective

Even better news: the effects were maintained long-term (or at least 6 months after the study ended, which was one of the time points where outcomes were measured).

This includes improvements in worry, generalised anxiety, sleep and social participation.

What does this mean?

If yoga is as effective as CBT, at least in this demographic, then more people should be recommended yoga as a safe way to support their mental health. If you, dear reader, are over 60, maybe think about trying yoga if you don’t practice already.

In fact, it’s great news that both worked because what we need is options. We are all different. What works for one person may not work for another, so this ‘one size fits all’ approach of prescribing a digital CBT to everyone isn’t realistic in the real world.


I actually don’t have access to the full study, which is infuriating. So I don’t actually know what the yoga intervention was. From the description, I am guessing this is a class that combines physical and breathing practice specifically tailored to older adults (ie not Kundalini yoga, which is what the other study I wrote about was), but this is just a guess. There’s more information in the clinical trial page, for anyone interested.

* I am not recommending any of these by the way. They are apps that I know exist (and possibly even tried), but I have no opinions on whether they are any good or not. Also, like I say at the end of this post, it’s all about having options.

** I wasn’t prescribed any of the digital solutions I mention here.

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