How Yoga Can Help Battle Obesity

FreeYogaChicago.com is hosting monthly blog posts from featured writer Jenni Love on yoga and health living practices.  Please enjoy this series!

How Yoga Can Help Battle Obesity
Contributed by reader, Jenni Love

Obesity is often discussed in terms of its effect on our self-esteem, yet its consequences reach beyond the psychological. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a third of adults in the US are obese, posing an annual medical cost of no less than $147 billion dollars. Obesity is related to some of the leading causes of preventable death, including stroke, heart disease, Type II diabetes and particular cancers (including cancers of the esophagus, breast, endometrium, colon and rectum, gallbladder, thyroid and pancreas). What is perhaps most worrisome is that overweight and obesity rates among children are also rising. A 2007-2008 survey carried out by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, for instance, found that 17 per cent of children and adolescents aged two to 19 were obese, compared to only 10 per cent in the period spanning 1988-1994.

Defining Overweight and Obesity
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adults can be defined as overweight if their Body Mass Index (BMI) lies at between 25.0 to 29.0, and obese if their BMI is 30.0 and above. In the case of children, overweight children have a BMI at or above sex-specific 80th percentile but less than 95th percentile; obese children have a BMI at or above sex-specific 95th percentile. 

A Reasoned Approach to Weight Loss
Any reasonable and long-lasting weight loss program must begin with changes to one’s diet; nutritionists usually recommend that those seeking to lose weight consume a determined amount of calories and that meals comprise lean proteins, seasonal fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and healthy grains: in essence, they often recommend the Mediterranean diet. Exercise is also recommended, since it plays an important role both in building strength and burning calories. Counselling is often seen as the third vital pillar in lasting weight loss; in the same way that cognitive behavioral therapy is used in rehabilitation programs to help patients identify the destructive thought processes that lead to the drug and alcohol abuse, therapy can also help those suffering from obesity to analyse the processes that lead them to binge or overeat. It can also help people control their impulses, increase their motivation to make a positive change, provide coping skills if a relapse should occur, improve their self-esteem and help deal with stress (one of the main reason for comfort eating or indulging in harmful substances).

How Can Yoga Help?
A recent study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine has found that  yoga can aid in the lifestyle management of overweight and obesity in the following ways:

  • It can increase energy expenditure during sessions: Yoga is a fantastic way to burn calories, without having to jump or run (the latter can cause stress to the joints, especially when practitioners are overweight or obese).

  • Yoga can encourage practitioners to engage in more exercise than that performed in a session, by reducing back and joint pain. Any type of pain can lead sufferers to avoid movement – interestingly, movement is a key element of strengthening muscles and keeping pain at bay.

  • Yoga can increase mindfulness and reduce stress, thereby removing many triggers for overeating or bingeing. Mindfulness enables practitioners to envision their ultimate goal, which is to achieve a state of psychological and physiological health and wellness. It can also be said that the social side of yoga (meeting and greeting one’s teacher and fellow practitioners) can increase one’s sense of being supported through what can be a difficult time. Social interaction can also do wonders for one’s self-esteem, leading to a more positive frame of mind.

  • Yoga can increase one’s self-awareness: Through a heightened awareness of our bodies, we can be more in tune to the messages it sends us, including a message that our stomach is full, or that we are eating more than we need to.

  • Yoga can be a stepping-stone towards other, vigorous physical activities. Studies have found that obese people find exercise less pleasurable than those who are within their normal weight range; they also perceive exercise to be more intense than their non-obese counterparts. Because yoga takes individual capabilities into account, it can help beginners who are obese develop a liking for and interest in other forms of exercise. In other words, it can be a crucial first step towards a healthy lifestyle characterized by the practice of many different types of sport.

In the study, researchers recommend that the overweight and obese begin individual yoga classes even before they commence their diet and exercise program. Individual classes are ideal because they allow the person to slowly increase in proficiency and comfort. The researchers also recommend that the practitioner continue to engage in formal and informal yoga sessions once positive changes in diet and exercise begin to take effect. Yoga is certainly one practice that allows us to reap plentiful benefits for a lifetime!

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Overweight and Obesity, accessed May, 2014.

National Cancer Institute, Obesity and Cancer Risk, accessed May, 2014.

Mayo Clinic, Mediterranean Diet: A Heart- Healthy Eating Plan, accessed May, 2014.

Whole Foods, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, accessed May, 2014.

Adam M. Bernstein, et.al., Yoga in the Management of Overweight and Obesity, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2014, 8(1), 33-41.

Addiction-Treatment.com, Choosing to quit or staging an intervention, Accessed May, 2014.


L Brosseau, et.al., Efficacy of aerobic exercises for osteoarthritis (part II): a meta-analysis, Physical Therapy Reviews, 2004, 9(3), 125-145.

K Pilkington, et.al., Yoga for depression: the research evidence, Journal of Affective Disorders, 2005, 89(1-3), 13-24.

Yoga for Healthy Bones and Pain Relief

Yoga for Healthy Bones and Pain Relief

Contributed by reader, Jenni Love

If you asked the average person on the street to identify just one of the many benefits of yoga, they may answer, ‘relaxation’, ‘increased flexibility’ or ‘strength’ yet yoga is useful for so much more. Yoga can help individuals deal with the sometimes painful or uncomfortable side-effects of breast1 and other cancersor Hepatitis C, the stress and anxiety provoked by breast cancer and even to ameliorate conditions like depression and cancer-related fatigue. Studies also indicate that the regular practice of yoga can foster better bone health in women by helping the body build bone mineral density post-menopause3. In this article, we discuss why yoga is a must for all women and men wishing to keep the debilitating disease that is osteoporosis at bay.

Osteoporosis: The statistics
Osteoporosis causes almost 9 million fractures a day in the world, which translates to a fracture rate of around one every three seconds4. Some 75 million people in the US, Europe and Japan are affected. On a global scale, one in three women over 50 will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture, and so will one in five men. Although the disease has been found to largely be caused by genetic factors5, risk factors include physical inactivity6, smoking7, a high alcohol intake, prolonged use of corticosteroids and low body weight/weight loss. The effect on rates of mortality is significant; just one hip fracture can increase the rate of death8 by 25%. Women are equally likely to die following a hip fracture as they are from breast cancer, while men aged over 50 are more likely to suffer from a hip fracture than from prostate cancer.

Revealing studies:
Some of the most relevant reports linking yoga to better bone health include a 2009 pilot study published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation. The study involved patients suffering from osteoporosis or osteopenia (a less severe condition in which bone density is lower than normal), with an average age of 68 years. The subjects underwent blood, urine and a special X-ray called a DEXA scan, prior to their daily 10-minute yoga class. The subjects were taught just ten yoga poses in their classes, including the triangle pose, upward-and-downward dog poses, bridge, rainbow and boat. The DEXA scan was repeated after a period of two years. Scientists found that those who practiced yoga gained significant bone density in the spine and hips when compared to those in the control group, who did not perform yoga. Five patients with osteopenia were reclassified as normal, while two patients who had osteoporosis were osteopenic by the end of the study. Scientists concluded that yoga is a low-cost and healthy way to combat osteoporosis. Moreover, they noted that previous studies have already shown toga to increase neural plasticity associated with motor learning, improve capacities that protect us against falls, and to improve our gait. Moreover, the fact that just eight to ten minutes a day of yoga was sufficient to produce such promising results, and the fact that yoga has such a low injury rate, are additional reasons why it makes an ideal activity for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Another study9 has revealed that yoga is an effective treatment for chronic lower back pain. Moreover, the benefits persist many weeks after classes are undertaken. The scientists conducting the study postulated that “Although westerners often think of yoga as a form of exercise, the practice of yoga places as much emphasis on mental focus as on physical movement and considers the breath, which links the mind and the body, as the key to achieving both physical and psychological benefits. Yoga may be beneficial for back pain because it involves physical movement, but it may also exert benefits through its effects on mental focus.” That is, the mental awareness bestowed by yoga enables us to be more aware of how we move and position our body, thereby enabling us to adapt our bodies in a beneficial way, and not persist with maladaptive postures and methods of movement.

Complementary therapies to yoga:
In addition to practicing yoga with regularity, there are other ways we can improve bone health. One of the primary means of doing so is through nutrition. We should ensure an adequate intake of protein10, potassium and magnesium, Vitamins C, D and K and calcium. Vegetarians should aim to boost their bone density by consuming top quality soy protein, sourced from tofu11, tempeh, soy yoghurt, etc.

1 S Hosakote Vadiraja et al, International Journal of Yoga, 2009, July-December; 2(2), 73-79.
2 Yoga, Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute, accessed, May, 2014.
International Osteoporosis Foundation, Osteoporosis Facts and Statistics, accessed May, 2014.
5 TL Stewart, SH Ralston, Role of genetic factors in the pathology of osteoporosis, Journal of Endocrinology, 2000, 166(2), 235-45.
7 KD Ward, RC Klesges, A meta–analysis of the effects of cigarette smoking on bone mineral density, Calcified Tissue International, 2001, 68 259-270.
KwikMed.org, Complete Video Guide to Osteoporosis and Bone Health, accessed May, 2014.
9 Karen J Sherman, et al, Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Lower Back Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2005, 143(12), 849-856.
10 JoyBauer.com, 8 Bone Building Nutrients, accessed May, 2014.
11 Tofu, An Important Message About Tofu, WHFoods.org, accessed May, 2014.