6 posts tagged “yoga”

The benefits of just a bit of exercise (+”forest bathing”?)

Posted 5 months ago by

If frequent, long workouts aren’t in the cards, here’s some good news: A new research analysis based on decades’ of studies shows the potential mental health perks of even just a smidgen of light exercise. Also, see the results of a Japanese study on something called “forest bathing.”

Exercise linked to good vibes

“Even a Little Exercise Might Make Us Happier,” a recent New York Times headline proclaims. It might sound obvious, but it’s still positive news — especially for those who may not be able to meet physical activity guidelines for the general population (30+ minutes of exercise on most days).

“According to a new review of research about good moods and physical activity, people who work out even once a week or for as little as 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. And any type of exercise may be helpful… The type of exercise did not seem to matter. Some happy people walked or jogged. Others practiced yoga-style posing and stretching.”

For the published review, researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed the results of 23 studies since 1980 that explored the links between physical activity and happiness. The studies were mostly observational (not strict clinical trials) but they involved a total of 500,000 people ranging from adolescents to the very old and from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

The Times notes that happiness is a rather “subjective, squishy concept,” and it’s not clear from these studies if working out causes happiness or if the two commonly occur together. But overall, the results are notable because “the amount of exercise needed to influence happiness was slight… In several studies, people who worked out only once or twice a week said they felt much happier than those who never exercised.” Exercising even more frequently may bring even greater happiness, the researchers say. From what my friend tells me, since he started getting Boston Tennis Lessons to ease him back into exercising, he has felt happier.

Talk with your doctor about healthy ways for you to squeeze in physical activity — ideas you’re likely to enjoy and stick with. For some people with Parkinson’s disease, it’s walking to their favorite tunes, and for those living with cancer, it may be chair yoga.

In general, try not to stress about not getting enough exercise — other recent research shows that dwelling on it isn’t good for your health.

What’s “forest bathing”?

Here’s another headline that caught our eye: “Just being outside can improve your psychological health, and maybe your physical health too.”

Quartz summed up about $4 million of Japanese research on the benefits of something called “forest bathing” (essentially, it’s just sitting or standing in the woods).

“Just be with trees. No hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit. You can sit or meander, but the point is to relax rather than accomplish anything,” Quartz reports. “The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.”

Inhaling the essential oils of a forest, generally called phytoncide, appears to give (healthy) people an immune system boost and reduce stress. Even getting a “dose of nature” in an urban park setting can help with stress relief, studies have shown.

Some health conditions may make it difficult to spend time outdoors, such as lupus (which can bring sun sensitivity — check out these photosensitivity tips). Connect with members of your community on PatientsLikeMe or talk with your doctor about ways to safely spend time outside, considering your particular condition.

How do you squeeze in a bit of activity or outdoor time these days? Join PatientsLikeMe today to swap ideas with the community!

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Living with depression? Grab your mat: 5-minute yoga video with Jamie from PatientsLikeMe

Posted June 7th, 2017 by

Studies have shown that practicing yoga can have positive effects on people with depression. So we tapped Jamie – a PatientsLikeMe research assistant who is also a certified yoga instructor – to show us some poses with mental health in mind. She put together a 5-minute, beginner-level flow that you can try at home. (As always, check with your doctor before trying a new type of exercise.)

Yoga for depression

“I practice yoga to manage my mental and physical health, and to bring mindfulness to my day,” Jamie says. Don’t speak yogi? Here’s a breakdown of the poses (and phrases) featured in the video, plus some of their perks:

  • Pranayama – The practice of purposefully controlling or regulating your breath. Benefits: Settles the mind and body in preparation to practice yoga.
  • Dirga (pronounced “deerga”) – A form of pranayama, this three-part breath involves inhaling into your lower belly (with your right hand on your belly), then into your diaphragm or midsection of the lungs, and finally into the chest (with your left hand on your chest) – and reversing this flow when you exhale. Benefits: Helps increase oxygen to the heart and lung to counteract shallow breathing – which can occur with depression or anxiety, frequent sitting and poor posture.
  • Cat/cow – A pair of simple poses done on your hands and knees. For “cow,” inhale as your belly drops and your gaze rises, and for “cat,” exhale as your spine rounds and your chin comes to your chest. Benefits: This flow brings awareness and energy to the entire length of the body while also creating flexibility in the spine.
  • Downward dog, or “downdog” – Another simple pose, done on your hands and feet, that involves the entire body and lengthens the back from head to foot as you bend at the waist. Benefits: It’s gently energizing and balancing for the mind and body.

Yoga for depression

  • Sun salutation A, or “sun A” – One of the easiest and most common sequences in yoga, which can be done at any pace to be more or less energizing. It involves reaching upward toward the sky, then folding forward to touch your shins or the floor, stepping back into a plank pose, lowering your body to the floor, then pressing up with your arms and chest into a “cobra” pose, and finally, returning to a tabletop (hands and knees) and a “downdog” bend – repeating the sequence as needed. Benefits: Gets blood flowing and builds energy during your yoga practice.
  • Locust – Laying face-down and raising your chest, arms, lower legs and feet off the floor. Variations include keeping your arms at your sides and hands reaching straight back (think: “Superman” style) or interlacing your hands behind your lower back for even more of a stretch. Benefits: Helps open the chest to combat poor posture or slumped shoulders, which can come from feeling withdrawn or physically closed off – common symptoms of depression.

Yoga for depression

  • Plow – A back stretch that involves laying on your back and reaching your legs and feet overhead, touching your toes to the floor above your head. Benefits: It quiets the nervous system, relieves irritability and serves as a full body renewal.
  • Supine bound angle pose – A hip-opening pose where you lay on your back with your feet together and knees apart (think: “butterfly” style). Keeping your hands on your chest and belly helps you focus on breathing and relaxation. Benefits: This restorative pose can relax the mind and body.

The latest yoga/depression research

More than 15 million Americans practice yoga, and there’s increasing evidence of yoga’s physical and psychological benefits.

New research published in Psychological Medicine is the largest study of the yoga/depression connection to date. The study involved 122 adults with moderate depression. Half of them were randomly assigned to try hatha yoga (most forms of yoga practiced in the West), while continuing treatment with anti-depressant medication. After 10 weeks, the yoga group didn’t show significant improvement over the “control” group, but after six months, 51 percent of those who took yoga (about three sessions per week) experienced a 50 percent reduction in symptoms (compared with a 31 percent decrease in symptoms in the non-yoga group).

The takeaway? Yoga may not alleviate depression symptoms right away, but the benefits may build when yoga is practiced regularly over a longer term.

On PatientsLikeMe

Hundreds of patients report using more than a dozen different forms of yoga as part of their treatment plan. See how patients with major depressive disorder are using yoga and how they rate its effectiveness.

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