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).

“Everyone has inside them a piece of good news. The good news is you don’t know how great you can be. How much you can love. What you can accomplish. And what your potential is.”    -Anne Frank

7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain

Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain

Last week, a study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”

One of the most interesting studies in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, though its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it.

Its Effects Rival Antidepressants for Depression, Anxiety

A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.

Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain

In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well.

Just a Few Days of Training Improves Concentration and Attention 

Having problems concentrating isn’t just a kid thing – it affects millions of grown-ups as well, with an ADD diagnosis or not. Interestingly but not surprisingly, one of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration: One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too – but it’s nice to have science confirm it. And everyone can use a little extra assistance on standardized tests.

Meditation Reduces Anxiety — and Social Anxiety

A lot of people start meditating for its benefits in stress reduction, and there’s lots of good evidence to support this rationale. There’s a whole newer sub-genre of meditation, mentioned earlier, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness (now available all over the country), that aims to reduce a person’s stress level, physically and mentally. Studies have shown its benefits in reducing anxiety, even years after the initial 8-week course. Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation, in contrast to attending to the breath only, can reduce anxiety – and that these changes seem to be mediated through the brain regions associated with those self-referential (“me-centered”) thoughts. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to help people with social anxiety disorder: a Stanford University team found that MBSR brought about changes in brain regions involved in attention, as well as relief from symptoms of social anxiety.

Meditation Can Help with Addiction

A growing number of studies has shown that, given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, meditation can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of addiction. One study, for example, pitted mindfulness training against the American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking (FFS) program, and found that people who learned mindfulness were many times more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the training, and at 17 weeks follow-up, than those in the conventional treatment. This may be because meditation helps people “decouple” the state of craving from the act of smoking, so the one doesn’t always have to lead to the other, but rather you fully experience and ride out the “wave” of craving, until it passes. Other research has found that mindfulness training, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) can be helpful in treating other forms of addiction.

Short Meditation Breaks Can Help Kids in School

For developing brains, meditation has as much as or perhaps even more promise than it has for adults. There’s been increasing interest from educators and researchers in bringing meditation and yoga to school kids, who are dealing with the usual stressors inside school, and oftentimes additional stress and trauma outside school. Some schools have starting implementing meditation into their daily schedules, and with good effect: One district in San Francisco started a twice daily meditation program in some of its high-risk schools – and saw suspensions decrease, and GPAs and attendance increase. Studies have confirmed the cognitive and emotional benefits of meditation for schoolchildren, but more work will probably need to be done before it gains more widespread acceptance.

Does Inflammation Increase Fracture Risk?

By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Vrunda Bhavsar Desai, MD, FACOG, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

Aging is associated with chronic, low-grade, systemic inflammation characterized by an increase in circulating levels of inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), interleukin 6 (IL-6), and interleukin 1 (IL-1).

This pro-inflammatory response has been linked to a wide range of chronic conditions associated with aging, including cardiovascular disease,1 diabetes,2 and dementia.3 There’s mounting evidence implicating chronic systemic inflammation in osteoporosis and fracture risk in adults.

Most studies in older white women

At least 10 observational studies have examined the association of inflammatory markers with bone loss and fracture risk in humans. Most included only older women, and most of these subjects were white, says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist and researcher Kamil Barbour, PhD, MPH, who led 3 of the studies examining inflammation and osteoporosis-related fractures while at the University of Pittsburgh. But despite this limitation, he says, the studies offer compelling evidence that inflammation could be a significant risk factor for bone loss and fracture in aging.

The trials conducted by the University of Pittsburgh research team showed a 1.5-fold to 2.5-fold greater risk for fracture in older women with the highest levels of inflammation compared to those with the lowest levels.

“Two of our studies looked at hip fractures and 1 examined nontraumatic fractures, and we did find very strong associations,” Dr. Barbour said. “In 2 of the 3 studies there was a 2.5-fold greater risk for hip fractures in women with high levels of inflammation.”

More study needed

While the majority of the studies suggest a causal role for inflammation in age-related bone loss and fracture risk, Dr. Barbour says more research is needed to strengthen the association, especially in men.

“I know a lot of people will remain skeptical and say inflammation is just a marker for frailty or something else,” he says. “But in our studies we controlled for frailty, and this did not change our results.”

Published: 06/03/2014

References:

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