Yoga: The Stealth Health Booster
These days, you don't have to chant or wear funny clothes. Once the practice only of serious hippies and people living in ashrams, yoga is now as mainstream as the Stairmaster. Because it is touted to be relaxing, researchers have conducted studies to measure yogas effect on stress and health.
One study, published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that yoga practitioners experience a 27 percent increase in levels of a neurotransmitter known as GABA after a one-hour yoga session. Low levels of this brain chemical are associated with anxiety and depression, so these findings point to the possibility that regular yoga practice may somehow offset that drop in GABA. Though the study was small, the researchers broke new ground using high-tech brain imaging to gauge the levels of the neurotransmitter before and after the yoga session, comparing the results to a control group of people who simply read during the hour-long session.
Consider those findings in light of these: In another study from 2005, a group of 98 people were given blood tests at the beginning and end of a 10-day yoga-based intervention that involved yoga, relaxation techniques, group support, and lectures. In this short period, researchers saw marked improvements in fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Yoga also doubles as very effective stretching, and stretching is an activity that everyone who has diabetes should do. Elevated blood sugar levels can cause sugar to "stick" to joint surfaces, decreasing joint flexibility and range of motion. Since people with diabetes are more prone to joint problems like "frozen shoulder," it's good to know that yoga (or even just doing regular stretching) may be an effective way to keep your joints more supple and moving well.
So, perhaps yoga or the type of physical and mental activity that yoga involves causes a tide of physiological responses that affect our health in lots of positive ways, from making us feel less stressed or depressed to regulating whats happening in our blood vessels and organs. Sound worth a try?
Reviewed by Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, FACSM 05/13
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