YOGA FOR HEALTHY AGING: Proof of the Effectiveness of Reducing Chronic Stress!

Partial repost from Yoga for Healthy Aging: Proof of the effectiveness of reducing chronic stress!  Posted 15 October 2015

by Nina

According to a new study “Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Effect on Healthcare Resource Utilization” by James E. Stahl, et al, published in the journal PLOS one, practicing Relaxation Response techniques, such as meditation and yoga, could reduce the need for health care services by 43 per cent. To me, this was really exciting news (and not just because I’m not very fond of going to the doctor or the emergency room). I feel it’s solid scientific proof that using yoga’s stress management techniques will be very likely to improve your health. The authors of this study decided to do a thorough study of the effects of mind-body interventions on health care services because stress-related illnesses are “drivers” of healthcare use. Here is how they put it:

“In primary care, stress-related illnesses are known drivers of healthcare resource utilization in the US. Health care expenditures attributable to stress-related disorders, such as, depression and anxiety, were over 80 billion dollars/year in 2012. These have been the third highest cause of healthcare expenditures after heart disease and cancer in the US; each of which carries their own substantial stress burden. Over 90% of people suffering from stress or stress-related problems seek help through primary care and tend to be frequent healthcare utilizers. These visits can comprise as much as 70 percent of physicians’ case- loads. In addition, more than 80% of patients presenting to general practice evidence lack of resiliency and psychological stress. Common physical manifestations of stress, e.g., headaches, back pain, insomnia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel, chest discomfort, are among the most frequent reasons people seek care.”

To conduct this study, the researchers tracked all 4452 patients who received training at the Relaxation Response Resiliency Program at the MGH Benson-Henry Institute from 1/12/ 2006 to 7/1/2014 for a median of 4.2 years. They then compared the usage of health care resources by this group against that of the control group of 13149. Total utilization of health care resources for patients with Relaxation Response training decreased by 43% compared with the control group. Here’s the breakdown:
Clinical encounters decreased by 41.9%
Imaging by 50.3%
Lab encounters by 43.5%
Procedures by 21.4%
In addition, the intervention group’s Emergency Department visits decreased from 3.6 to 1.7 per year (although Hospital and Urgent care visits converged with the controls).

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Using mind-body techniques to manage chronic stress keeps you healthier in a whole range of ways. And the training that these people received at the MGH Benson-Henry Institute was in using meditation and similar techniques to trigger the Relaxation Response, all of which are similar to, if not exactly the same as, the techniques that yoga provides.

In fact, the researchers were so encouraged by the study results they proposed that mind-body interventions should be instituted across the board as a “form of preventative care, similar to vaccinations or driver education.” With that, all I can say, is that if you’re practicing yoga solely as “exercise” and not exploring the stress management tools because “relaxing” feels like wasting time, you’re missing out on some valuable health promotion activities (not to mention that peace of mind stuff).

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