Benefits of Yoga for Chronic Health Problems
Recently several chronic diseases have become a major concern worldwide, especially as there is a notion that people are living longer these days. This longer lifespan means people affected by chronic health conditions are living longer suffering from the detrimental side effects. Diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity have been studied and shown to produce negative effects on immune function and overall quality of life. As people age, they become more sedentary and metabolism slows, therefore, leading to higher risks of obesity and loss of physical functioning. Exercise plays a significant role in the wellbeing of all people, but most importantly those affected by chronic illness.
As you may know, physical activity has also been shown to produce positive effects in conditions involving mental health and stress. The improved circulation, production of endorphins, and the social aspect that comes from exercise are what lead people to a happier and a more relaxed mental status. One form of exercise that has been studied more closely recently is yoga. There are several types of yoga ranging from Hatha, Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyasa, and prenatal yoga, among others—all involving a different emphasis.
Calms a Hyperactive Nervous System
Yoga can ease the nervous system and turn the ‘fight-or-flight’ symptoms into ‘rest-and-digest’. For those suffering from daily stress, depression, or anxiety whether from dealing with another chronic illness or not, restorative yoga can help relax the mind and help create a more positive outlook on your disease or daily life. Since the focus of yoga is to enhance the mind-body connection, this result leads to a heightened awareness and relaxation. With the breathing practices that are a part of yoga, agitation can be significantly decreased, not only at the moment during the session, but in everyday life.
Improves Blood Flow & Homeostasis
The relaxation benefits and resultant enhanced awareness yoga brings is advantageous not only for direct mental illness but for other chronic physical diseases as well. Studies have shown that those with a high risk for cardiovascular disease can lower cholesterol levels, inflammatory genes, and improve fat breakdown in the body. These outcomes all reduce the likelihood of obesity. These same studies showed an improvement in insulin resistance and artery mobility for those with diabetes with the consistent use of Bikram yoga. Bikram is a form of yoga performed in hot temperature, usually set to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cancer is another debilitating disease that may result in depression, anxiety, and a lower quality of life. Due to the level of protocols required during cancer treatment, those suffering become consumed with their illness making it difficult to cope and find pleasure in other aspects of their lives. Studies on the use of gentle yoga emphasizing deep breathing techniques and meditation resulted in improved levels of stress and physical functioning in women with breast cancer. Many studies on exercise and cancer symptoms have been conducted all concluding with many positive outcomes. Yoga alone may be enough to ease many symptoms involved in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Improves Immune Function
Any psychological stress will create inflammation in the body. A natural process of immune function is a production of inflammation, which is helpful in small doses such as when healing wounds and injuries. The problem is chronic inflammation from prolonged stress. Studies have been performed evaluating inflammatory markers in people partaking in yoga on a regular basis. The research concluded that yoga indeed reduced these inflammatory markers as well as immune cell counts and antibodies. The studies report that these benefits can be achieved with prolonged use of yoga as a daily to weekly form of exercise for 30 to 90 minutes at a time, which is doable for most people.
Although many forms of exercise can be used to improve symptoms of certain illnesses, lower stress levels, and decrease the risk of disease, yoga seems to be the most relaxing option. As mentioned studies have shown benefits from even 30 minutes of meditative yoga. For the general population, yoga helps improve overall flexibility, balance, and circulation— all of which lead to less risk of injury, pain, and heart conditions. Mental health problems may stem from other chronic illness such as those mentioned or from post-traumatic issues. Individuals suffering from these problems may have a harder time staying focused during the initial trials of yoga, but it is important to not give it up so quickly as this form of exercise has been shown to be most beneficial for these cases.
If you are already an active person involved in other types of exercise such as running or aerobics, adding yoga will complement your routine and add several benefits you are most likely not getting from your everyday sport of choice. Whether or not you are suffering from any chronic physical or mental illness, including yoga on a regular basis may be the answer to managing symptoms and lowering your risk of illness in the future. Two of the most common complaints people have is poor sleep quality and stress, and yoga can help take care of these over time.