Can Yoga Reduce Symptoms Of Depression And Back Pain?

People suffering from depression are looking to yoga as a complement to traditional therapies to lessen symptoms of depression, says a study presented in July at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

The research focused on the acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga – the branch of yoga that emphasizes physical exercises along with meditative and breathing exercises to enhance well-being. In the study, 23 male veterans participated in twice-weekly yoga classes for eight weeks. On a one-to-10 scale, the average enjoyment rating for the yoga classes was 9.4. All participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans – but more importantly – participants with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight weeks.

“Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” said Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”

Hatha And Heated Yoga

Another, more specific, version of hatha yoga commonly practiced in the West is Bikram yoga, also known as heated yoga. Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University in San Francisco investigated Bikram yoga in 52 women, ages 25 to 45. Just more than half were assigned to participate in twice-weekly classes for eight weeks. The rest were told they were wait-listed and used as a control condition.

All participants were tested for depression levels at the beginning of the study, as well as at weeks three, six and nine. Shallit and her co-author Hopkins, found that eight weeks of Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group. In the same session, Maren Nyer, PhD, and Maya Nauphal, BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital, presented data from a pilot study of 29 adults that also showed eight weeks of at least twice-weekly Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression and improved other secondary measures including quality of life, optimism, and cognitive and physical functioning.

“The more the participants attended yoga classes, the lower were their depressive symptoms at the end of the study,” said Nyer, who currently has funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Bikram yoga for individuals with depression. Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands presented data from two studies on the potential for yoga to address chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression. In the first study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions of approximately 2.5 hours each.

The researchers measured participants’ levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry before the yoga sessions, directly after the nine weeks and four months later. Scores for depression, anxiety and stress decreased throughout the program, a benefit that persisted four months after the training. Rumination and worry did not change immediately after the treatment, but at follow-up rumination and worry were decreased for the participants.

Yoga And Relaxation

In another study – this one involving 74 mildly depressed university students – Vollbehr and her colleagues compared yoga to a relaxation technique. Individuals received 30 minutes of live instruction on either yoga or relaxation and were asked to perform the same exercise at home for eight days using a 15-minute instructional video. While results taken immediately after the treatment showed yoga and relaxation were equally effective at reducing symptoms, two months later, the participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress than the relaxation group.

“These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression,” said Vollbehr.

The concept of yoga as complementary or alternative mental health treatment is so promising that the U.S. military is investigating the creation of its own treatment programs. Jacob Hyde, PsyD, of the University of Denver Hopkins, noted that the research on yoga as a treatment for depression is still preliminary. “At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” Hyde said. “Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.”

Yoga Reducing Back Pain

In another study also unveiled in July, researcher Dr. Erik J. Groessl and his team from the VA San Diego Healthcare System found that veterans who completed a 12-week yoga program had better scores on a disability questionnaire, improved pain intensity scores, and a decline in opioid use. That study included 150 military veterans with chronic low back pain. Groessl is a researcher with the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on July 20, 2017. The study shows promise for non-drug treatment of chronic low back pain, said Groessl.

“To be able to reduce the reliance upon opioids and other medications with side effects, it is crucial to establish evidence showing mind-body practices like yoga provide benefit in both veterans and non-veterans with chronic pain,” he said.

Yoga Intervention

Veterans in the study who were randomized to the yoga group attended a 12-week yoga program immediately after randomization. Comparison participants were invited to attend the yoga intervention only after six months. The 12-week yoga intervention consisted of two 60-minute, instructor-led yoga sessions per week, with home practice sessions encouraged. The intervention was based on the previously mentioned hatha yoga, which involves yoga postures and movement sequences, along with regulated breathing and mindfulness meditation. Outcomes were assessed at the baseline, six weeks, 12 weeks and six months.

Both study groups had reductions in disability scores after 12 weeks. However, notable differences emerged at the six-month assessment, with scores continuing to drop in the yoga group but increasing in the delayed-treatment group. Along with those improvements, pain intensity decreased in the yoga group at all three time periods, while the delayed-treatment group had negligible changes.

There was also a 20 percent drop in opioid pain medication use at 12 weeks in both groups as determined through self-report questionnaires and a review of medical records. Reductions in disability and pain intensity were found despite the reductions in opioid use and other medical and self-help pain treatments at six months. The trial confirms the findings of two prior randomized controlled trials with non-veterans showing that yoga is safe and can reduce pain and disability among adults with chronic low back pain.

Expanding Formal Yoga Programs

The study is one of the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of yoga specifically in military veterans, a population that faces more health challenges and may be harder to treat than non-VA populations, say the researchers. They point out that as with other non-drug treatments for chronic low back pain, yoga may not help everyone or may not completely eliminate chronic low back pain, but reduced pain and disability can often maintained long-term with ongoing yoga home practice.

The team says that given the results of their study, VA facilities nationwide may want to consider developing and expanding formal yoga programs to help veterans with back pain. Many VA facilities already do offer yoga classes, along with other complementary and integrative health programs.

New Health Benefits Linked To Cycling

It is well known that physical activities have a plethora of health benefits associated with them. A recent study has found that certain types are more effective. Being active is preferred over staying dormant and stagnant a hundred times over but what some people fail to realize is the type of exercise you take part in will directly affect certain health issues or concerns. A senior exercise physiologist named Deb Tregea who performed this study at Penn State found that the type of exercise performed on two wheels has a variety of positive results.

One of the benefits Tregea talks about is not simply related to the body itself but as a means of transportation. She notes that cyclists can be much more practical with their time and money. For those conscious of how car emissions harm the environment, biking is also a great option as your primary mode of transportation. This is perfect for those cities that don’t necessarily have reliable public transportation and for individuals who don’t feel like racking up Uber miles. Cycling also is associated with a ton of physical benefits like the prevention of weight accumulation as well as illnesses associated with weight issues like diabetes and heart disease.

Tregea found that the varied terrain that is often experienced by cyclists after only 20 minutes of riding is enough to allot for the recommended minutes a week of exercise an average adult needs. There are variances and specific inconsistencies when it comes to cycling that can be of benefit to those interested in their level of fitness. Due to the terrain of outdoor cycling, something like climbing a hill works and engages different muscles throughout the body in a way that requires endurance and strength. Even the routes with less strenuous terrain cause the body to react in a way it may not be used to from other forms of exercise.

Low Impact

One of the greatest benefits associated with cycling is its low impact on the body. So many serious athletes or those who take part in strenuous workouts often experience setbacks from physical injuries to their feet, ankles, and knees. This is especially true for those who enjoy running and doing marathons. While these are admirable and highly difficult practices to do on a long-term basis, it’s important to realize that injury is very common as a result of the overwhelming stress on the joints and the knees.

Due to the low impact of cycling, it’s a great option for those who want to be active but struggle with other more strenuous modes of exercise. Those individuals that suffer from conditions like osteoarthritis may find that something like cycling is the perfect option for them as it minimizes wear and tear to joints.

Cycling also has benefits as it relates to leg functionality. For those who have had strength issues with their knees and legs, Tregea says that the prospect of cycling is great for these sufferers as it helps strengthen leg muscles. It can be as easy as a few times around the block on a bike if you’re completely new to the function of cycling, but it can forever positively impact your health and your life. The exercise high often experienced by those who run is also a very common experience with cyclists. Interested in providing yourself some clarity from stress and mental health hiccups? See if cycling helps.

Even Minimal Physical Activity Can Thwart Disease

You’ve likely heard the importance of being active and exercising to promote overall physical health. The state of the body is directly connected to a few things, one of which being how active the body is. A recent study, conducted on over 60,000 adult participants showed that even minimal physical activities make a huge difference for the body. Physical activity thwarts the likelihood of issues like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Physical Activity Study

The primary reason for the study was to see if less frequent instances of activity could still make a difference. In the cases of many individuals, sometimes adhering to a strict and habitual schedule can be difficult for those who lead a busy life. Sometimes incorporating workouts can be time consuming and simply not feasible depending on the person. It was discovered that despite former claims of almost excessive exercise, that physical activity only once or twice a week also makes a huge difference in a person’s health. “Just one or two occasions of physical activity per week is associated with a lower risk of death,” senior author, Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, explained.

The study does also go on to say that exceeding the minimum recommendation can also be helpful to both the cardiovascular system as well as the nervous system. The World Health Organization recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of some type of moderately difficult physical activity. The other option, in lieu of that recommendation, is at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. The best option really depends on the type of time you can allot for your own physical fitness, but making it a bit of a priority is definitely the way to go. If you don’t have your health, you have very little.

Weekend Warriors

There is a term for those who get only one to two days of physical activity. “Weekend warriors” are what they are dubbed because this is where the predominance of their free time is. During the week they typically don’t have enough time to devote to getting exercise. Those with incredibly busy lifestyles sometimes struggle to get in the amount of physical activity they think they need. This leaves time on the weekends where they can maybe take an aerobics class, go for a bike ride or try a new hiking trail they’ve been hearing about.

Various studies are still trying to figure out what the overall best weekly dose of physical exercise coupled with frequency is. This can be specific depending on the person, their health status, previous health issues, genetics and so on. Real overt vigorous exercise can’t be tolerated well by certain people. This is why the more gentle types of physical activity are generally better for various reasons. They are less likely to result in injury and more likely to be easily incorporated into life at a semi-consistent rate. When a person doesn’t feel personally pressured to work out every single day, on the days where they do, they’ll feel better, give their all and generally perform better in the long run. It’s good to ease yourself into a physical activity, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition or are older. Make sure to consult your doctor.

Don’t feel like you must push your body to the edge in order to improve your health and ward off disease.