“The medical literature tells us that the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many more problems are through healthy diet and exercise. Our bodies have evolved to move, yet we now use the energy in oil instead of muscles to do our work.” – David Suzuki
Chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are not only physically difficult but also very frequently associated with emotional challenges, being frequently accompanied by anxiety and depression. The presence of a chronic disease makes it three times more likely to have a major depression. About 15% of patients with diabetes are depressed while about 20% of patients with coronary heart disease evidence depression.
The comorbidity appears to be bidirectional. The presence of depression nearly doubled the likelihood that diabetes would occur and there is a 50% greater likelihood that a depressed individual will have a heart attack than matched individuals without depression. So, chronic disease tends to predict anxiety and depression and these psychological disorders tend to predict chronic disease.
Dealing with mental health issues with a background of chronic illness presents a complex picture for treatment. One option is yoga practice. It is known to have both physical and mental health benefits, so it would seem to be well suited to dealing with the combination of the two. In fact yoga has been found to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and stress http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/29/get-your-calm-on/ and improve distress tolerance http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/30/stop-emotional-eating-with-yoga/ as well as improving the immune response to combat disease http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/healthy-balance-through-yoga/. It can even help protect the brain from aging degeneration http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/.
In today’s Research News article “Influence of Intensity and Duration of Yoga on Anxiety and Depression Scores Associated with Chronic Illness”
Telles and colleagues test not only the effectiveness of yoga practice for anxiety and depression in chronically ill patients but also investigated the amounts of practice that are effective. They found that the more months that yoga has been practiced the lower the levels of both anxiety and depression. In addition, the amount of daily practice in minutes was also associated with lower levels of anxiety associated with chronic illness.
There are a number of effects of yoga practice that may underlie its ability to relieve anxiety and depression in chronically ill patients. Yoga practice has been shown to decrease the physical and psychological responses to stress. The stress related to chronic illness can magnify both the symptoms of the illness and also the psychological impact of the illness. By relieving this stress yoga practice can affect both the physical and psychological symptoms of the illness.
Yoga practice is also known to improve mood which could directly affect the levels of anxiety and depression. It may also do so by altering brain chemistry which is known to be associated with depression and anxiety. In addition, the fact that yoga is frequently practiced in a group can provide social support and stimulation that can assist with mental health.
Regardless of the mechanism it appears clear that the more you practice yoga, the better you begin to feel psychologically and physically. So, keep up your yoga practice for physical and emotional health.
“Even if you have a terminal disease, you don’t have to sit down and mope. Enjoy life and challenge the illness that you have.” – Nelson Mandela
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies