Adopting a healthier lifestyle can mean changing the way we think about food and our approach to exercise. It’s no secret that dietary guidelines are shifting, as more research surfaces to show how important good fats, meat and dairy are to our diet: but what about exercise? According to new research, meditation and yoga are shown to have the biggest impact on our long-lasting health aside from making us feel relaxed.
In this latest scientific review, published in Frontiers in Immunology journal, researchers have discovered that mindfulness exercises such as yoga, meditation, qi gong, and tai chi, are capable of making big changes to our health. How so?
They were shown to reverse the stress-related changes in our genes normally associated with depression and poor health.
Researchers arrived at this conclusion after studying 18 previously-published papers, chronicling the biological effects of these exercises on 846 people. The studies show that mind-body exercises seemingly suppress the expression of genes and genetic pathways to promote inflammation. The people who regularly embarked on mind-body exercises displayed fewer signs of inflammation, which in today’s day and age is typically sparked by stressful living.
The researchers state that those stresses can lead to the fight-or-flight response, which incites a domino effect of stress-related changes in the body. In turn, they can “activate” certain genes predisposed to making inflammation-producing proteins.
Lead author Ivana Buric, a PhD student in Coventry University’s Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab, says the whole team were surprised by how similar results were achieved despite the different natures of the exercises: “Sitting meditation is quite different than yoga or Tai Chi,” she told Time Magazine, “yet all of these activities—when practiced regularly—seem to decrease the activity of genes involved in inflammation.”
The biggest takeaway here is how important it is for people to take a proactive stance on their health. These analyses show that despite our genetics, we can overcome health hurdles in small increments. “By choosing healthy habits every day, we can create a gene activity pattern that is more beneficial for our health,” Buric adds. “Even just 15 minutes of practicing mindfulness seems to do the trick.”
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