Yoga for Stress Study: You’re Never Too Old to Exercise

“We do not stop exercising because we grow old; we grow old because we stop exercising.”

The words of fitness-guru Dr. Kenneth Cooper serve as a much-needed reminder for those of us who have begun using our years as an excuse to avoid using our muscles. However, in case we needed an extra push to get out of our chair and on to the yoga mat, a recent study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicineprovides us with the evidence we asked for: according to researchers’ investigations, adopting a yoga practice doesn’t just keep us younger through maintaining physical fitness; yoga reduces stress chemicals directly linked to aging and age-related diseases as well.

Conducted by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD and associates at Ohio State University, the study examined blood-levels of cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory protein both before and after exposure to stressful stimuli. IL-6, triggered by stress, is linked to a whole host of debilitating age-related diseases ranging from arthritis to type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and more.

The study participants, 50 women between the ages of 30 and 65, fell into one of two groups: half were expert or long term yoga practitioners, the other half were novices. After analyzing the data, researchers found that not only did the long term yoga practitioners produce less IL-6 in response to the stressors, they actually displayed lower baseline levels of the stress hormone as well—to a degree where the novice practitioners’ IL-6 levels weighed in at a full 41% higher.

In other words, not only did the regular yoga practitioners display a healthier stress response, they also enjoyed a greater overall state of physical calm and health than their counterparts in the same age and weight categories did.

Although our body’s stress response is a natural and useful function, too much stress or an overactive stress response can produce high levels of IL-6 can seriously undermine our health. With the constant weight of stress from our jobs, financial concerns, and other obligations on our backs, it’s no wonder that so many of us are fighting high IL-6 levels and the health concerns linked with them—diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer.

While doctors are working on developing anti-IL-6 agents as therapy against these major diseases, we can reduce our own IL-6 levels without a prescription: through a regular exercise program, such as yoga for stress, we can turn around our health—and turn back the clock.

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