Studies indicate health gains from mind-body techniques
By Erik Ekker Solberg, PhD, cardiologist, specialist in sports medicine
According to recent studies, yoga and meditation practices may help us to lose weight, reduce our blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and slow down our pulse. Both psychological and physical quality of life seems to improve.
According to a study from 2007 (1), nearly 30 million Americans have practiced meditation and 18 million have practiced yoga. The effects of yoga and meditation are increasingly the focus of scientific studies. The highly ranked European Journal of Preventive Cardiology (EPJC) published two review articles on the effects of yoga and meditation in 2014.
Slimming with yoga
The first review article (2) summarizes the effects of yoga. The participants were randomized to practice of yoga versus no practice of yoga. In five of the studies, yoga was compared to physical activity. The review indicated a positive, slimming effect from yoga – with a mean weight reduction of 2.3 kg. The effects of yoga were similar to those of moderate physical activity. Since yoga does not improve our physical condition, the effects of yoga must be associated with other factors, e.g. change of the autonomous nervous system toward increased relaxation.
Other findings included reduced blood pressure (mean reduction: 5/5mm Hg) and pulse (mean reduction: five beats per minute). Furthermore, the fat level of the blood was reduced (mean cholesterol reduction 0.48 mmol/l), whereas the level of blood sugar was not influenced. The review included 37 studies with 2738 participants of both genders (healthy persons as well as subjects with increased risk of cardiac disease) whose mean age was 50 years. The mean follow-up time was 3 months.
The other review article (3) summarizes the effects of meditation in 11 studies, with 793 participants who were randomly assigned to practice mindfulness meditation, TM, progressive relaxation, or stress management techniques. The effects were compared with the findings in a control group. The results indicated that both psychological and physical quality of life seemed to improve. Anxiety and depression were reduced, and blood pressure was lower. The participants were of both genders, and the follow-up was 4-26 weeks.
The studies suggest promising effects from mind-body techniques, including meditation and yoga, regarding important, well-known risk factors for heart disease. Both studies emphasize that their conclusions are tentative, due to methodological weaknesses such as small studies and poor quality of design. The differences between the designs and participants of the various studies, as well as the use of different kinds of yoga and meditation techniques, also limit the possibility of reliable comparisons.
Erik Ekker Solberg, MD PhD, is a chief physician at Diakonhjemmet Hospital in Oslo, Norway, specializing in Internal Medicine, Sports Medicine, and Cardiology, with a doctoral thesis studying the effects of meditation. He has taught Acem Meditation since 1975.
1) Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin RI. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. Natl Health Stat Report 2008.
2) Chu P, Gotink RA, Yeh GY, Goldie SJ, Hunink MM. The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2014.
3) Younge JO, Gotink RA, Baene CP, Roos-Hesselink JW, Hunink MM. Mind-body practices for patients with cardiac disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2014.
Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug
Copy editor: Ann Kunish