Ohio State University researchers in the journal Psychosomatic Medicinereported that regularly practicing yoga exercises may reduce the level of inflammation that normally rises because of both normal aging and stress. Specifically, the study showed that women who routinely practiced yoga had lower amounts of the inflammatory factor, cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), in their blood. In addition, they also showed smaller increases in IL-6 after stressful experiences than did women who were the same age and weight but who were not yoga practitioners.
IL-6 is an important part of the body’s inflammatory response and has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and a host of other age-related debilitating diseases. Reducing inflammation may provide substantial short- and long-term health benefits. OSU’s study seems to suggest that yoga may be a solution.
For the study, the researchers assembled a group of 50 women, age 41 on average. They were divided into two groups — “novices,” who had either taken yoga classes or who practiced at home with yoga videos for no more than 6 to 12 sessions, and “experts,” who had practiced yoga one of two times weekly for at least two years and at least twice weekly for the last year.
Each of the women was asked to attend three sessions in the university’s Clinical Research Center at two-week intervals. Each session began with participants filling out questionnaires and completing several psychological tests to gauge mood and anxiety levels.
Each woman also was fitted with a catheter in one arm through which blood samples could be taken several times during the research tasks for later evaluation.
Participants then performed several tasks during each visit designed to increase their stress levels including immersing their foot into extremely cold water for a minute, after which they were asked to solve a series of successively more difficult mathematics problems without paper or pencil.
Following these “stressors,” participants would either participate in a yoga session, walk on treadmill set at a slow pace (.5 miles per hour) designed to mirror the metabolic demands of the yoga session or watch neutral, rather boring videos. The treadmill and video tasks were designed as contrast conditions to the yoga session.
Once the blood samples were analyzed after the study, researchers saw that the women labeled as “novices” had levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 that were 41 percent higher than those in the study’s “experts.” In essence, the experts walked into the study with lower levels of inflammation than the novices, and the experts were also better able to limit their stress responses than were the novices.
As inflammation plays a major role in many diseases, yoga appears to be a simple and enjoyable way to add an intervention that might reduce risks for developing heart disease, diabetes and other age-related diseases. According to the researcher, one of the reasons that yoga may help de-stress is that muscles shorten and tighten over time, mainly because of inactivity. The stretching and exercise that comes with yoga increases a person’s flexibility and that, in turn, allows relaxation which can lower stress.
Thanks for reading.
Reference: Ohio State University. “Yoga reduces cytokine levels known to promote inflammation, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100111122643.htm>.