Yoga as Preventive Medicine: An Ancient Philosophy to Address a Modern Chronic Disease Epidemic
As a Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Interdisciplinary Yoga Instructor, I appreciate the power of lifestyle, movement and mind-body practices like yoga to bring greater balance into our lives, improve our health and prevent future disease.
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The burden of chronic lifestyle-related diseases is rapidly increasing worldwide, contributing to over 60% of deaths globally. Emerging research suggests that mind-body practices like yoga can impact a wide variety of lifestyle-related diseases. Yoga has been shown to be a powerful form of preventive medicine for conditions like obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic back pain.
Obesity rates in the US and worldwide have reached epidemic levels along with accompanying metabolic dysfunction. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980 with 39% of adults worldwide overweight in 2014. While many factors contribute to obesity, yoga has been shown to help people tune into their bodies and become more aware of their habits and lifestyle issues. Research suggests that yoga appears to be an appropriate intervention for weight maintenance, prevention of obesity and the reduction of diseases which are associated with obesity.
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a common imbalance in the body and an important risk factor for stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. Yoga modulates the physiological stress response in the body and therefore has been shown to be an effective means for modulating heart rate and blood pressure. Small but significant reductions in blood pressure were shown in as little as three weeks of daily yoga. Through stress reduction, increased parasympathetic nervous system activation and altered baroreceptor function, yoga as been shown to impact the cardiovascular system which may make it an effective adjunct therapy for patients with elevated blood pressure.
Low Back Pain
Mechanical low back pain is another common reason for physician visits, disability and discomfort. Research has also shown that yoga can benefit those suffering from chronic back pain. Carefully adapted yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function, quality of life, anxiety, depression and insomnia. In one study, participants who practiced yoga had significantly less disability, pain and depression after six months. Another study compared yoga with conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book and showed that yoga improved function and reduced lower back pain with results lasting 14 weeks longer than in the self-care handbook group.
Although more research is needed to definitely explore modalities such as yoga, there is so much promise for this mind-body practice!
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