Can a Yoga Pose a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

Certain mindfulness practices could do more than just alleviate stress, a new study suggests.

If your health insurance copay keeps rising, don't stress out. Instead, grab your yoga mat.

People who follow relaxation practices, such as meditation, deep breathing, prayer and yoga, end up making fewer trips to their doctors' offices, according to an October 2015 study published in PLOS ONE.

Those practices induce what's called the "relaxation response," a mental state of deep rest that helps to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen intake.

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Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) looked at how often more than 4,400 people went to the doctor in the year before and the year after they participated in a relaxation program at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. The MGH researchers then compared those data to how often almost 13,150 people who didn't participate in relaxation programs went to the doctor over two years.

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When all of the numbers were tallied, the people who regularly practiced relaxation techniques reduced their doctors' visits by 43 percent.

"These [relaxation] programs promote wellness and, in our environment of constrained health care resources, could potentially ease the burden on our health delivery systems at minimal cost and at no real risk," said lead study author James E. Stahl, MD, in a statement.

Devi Nampiaparampil, MD, associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU School of Medicine, says it's not surprising that relaxation techniques give our bodies a health boost. "Physical and psychological stresses tend to worsen almost any medical condition."

She explains that stress activates the body's "fight or flight" response, "which can help you in the short-term, but hurt you in the long-term. So if you can use strategies like yoga or meditation to decrease stress' harmful effects on your body, you can improve your health in the long-term," she says. "And yes, that can lead to fewer doctors' visits."

What are you waiting for? Strike a (yoga) pose!

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