A month to change your heart: Day 16

Let’s take a look at three relaxation techniques to relieve stress:  tai chi, mindfulness, and yoga.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that involves a series of gentle movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next without pause, so that your body is in constant motion.

There have been quite a few studies that have been done suggesting that  tai chi can help prevent coronary artery disease.  Most of these studies have been small, but preliminary evidence suggests tai chi can help:

  1. Decrease stress, anxiety and depression
  2. Improve mood
  3. Improve aerobic capacity
  4. Increase energy and stamina
  5. Improve flexibility, balance and agility
  6. Enhance quality of sleep
  7. Help lower blood pressure

Mindfulness-based stress reduction can also be a useful tool in our fight to relieve stress.  There are quite a few seminars that teach this, and a recent analysis looked at the evidence that it may help.  Of 17 small studies examined by the researchers, 16 demonstrated positive changes when it came to reducing stress and anxiety. 

Yoga has been shown in multiple small studies to decrease the chance of developing coronary artery disease. A study that will be published in the February 2016 issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reviews the effectiveness of yoga to decrease the risk of developing cardiac disease.  People doing yoga showed improvement in weight reduction, blood pressure, lowered LDL cholesterol and raised HDL cholesterol, lowered triglycerides, and decrease heart rates.  Interestingly, in this review, the effect was similar to traditional exercising. 

Yoga has also been shown to help mood, with men and women reporting less tension, fatigue and anger after being in only one class.  It can help to increase strength and flexibility.  In one study, men and women who did yoga two sessions per week for eight weeks increased their arm strength by 20-30 percent, and their leg strength by almost 30%.  Flexibility also improved significantly.

The evidence suggests that trying one of these techniques to help relax may help your heart. Here are the take home messages:

  1. Tai chi involves gentle movements and can reduce stress, help blood pressure, and give you a sense of well- being.  There are classes going on all over the Philadelphia area
  2. Mindfulness meditation usually is taught in a class/course that takes place over several weeks, and reduces stress and anxiety
  3. Yoga is the best studied of the three, and can help lessen tension, anger, and improve flexibility

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