Yoga

Yoga and meditation offer health care savings—and you can do them at home

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD

Contributing Editor

Results from a recent study show that people enrolled in a mind-body relaxation program (that included yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral skills) used 43% fewer medical services than they did the previous year, saving on average $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone. But you don’t need to participate in a formal program to reap the many benefits of these practices. Many of them can be learned and practiced at home.

Stress-busting mind-body medicine reduces need for health care

Anyone can develop better emotional and psychological resilience through practices such as rhythmic breathing, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or prayer. These practices not only improve mental health but have real physiological benefits. A recent study found that people who completed a program designed to help bolster resilience actually used fewer health care services compared with those who didn’t take the program, although more studies are needed to know whether such programs could help ease the burdens on the health care system.

More than a stretch: Yoga’s benefits may extend to the heart

Yoga is good for the muscles and the mind. New research suggests that it may also be good for the heart. A review of yoga and cardiovascular disease published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology indicates that yoga may help lower heart disease risk as much as conventional exercise, such as brisk walking. It can help people lose weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and ease stress. Each of those changes works to prevent heart disease, and can help people who already have cardiovascular problems.

Yoga may aid stroke recovery

Reena Pande, M.D.

Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Thanks to medical advances in detecting and treating stroke, the risk of dying from one is now lower than it used to be. Unfortunately, many stroke survivors are left with a disability. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability in the United States. A new study from Indianapolis suggests that yoga may benefit some stroke survivors. In this study, 47 stroke survivors were divided into three groups. Some took part in a twice weekly group yoga session for eight weeks, and others received standard follow-up but no yoga. There were several benefits in the yoga group, including improved balance, improved quality of life, reduced fear of falling, and better independence with daily activities. Although small, this study adds to findings from other research that yoga may help stroke survivors in several ways.