Geeky wellbeing favourites: February 2023
Health engagement, the role of mind–body practices, plus the usual science highlights
There was a time last year I think when I thought that I should become a health behaviour coach. In my other life, I work in health behaviour change and I’m most passionate about projects that involve supporting those living with chronic conditions to become more actively involved in their health and achieve better outcomes. So why not?
Of course this was one of my usual “let’s change careers again and re-train to do something else”, and it ended up in a little tin I keep with all of these moments so I can acknowledge their existence and move on (alongside “let’s do a conversion MSc in psychology”, “let’s do a bibliotherapy training” and “let’s become a yoga therapist”). It is a literal tin of post-it notes, and it’s pretty full.
My own career flip-flopping and indecision aside, what all these have in common is acknowledging that empowering people to better manage their health is incredibly important, especially while healthcare systems are struggling and preventative health is neglected.
There is some research that practicing yoga can help drive higher health engagement (see blog post links below), and I’m pretty sure this is likely to be the case for other mind–body and movement practices too because they help to build that closer connection with our bodies. This could potentially help us notice unhealthy behaviours and support us in changing them or swapping them for healthy ones. Or maybe they help us simply care about this one body that we have and do more things to love it and take care of it.
So, while I think about what retraining I want to do next, here are some interesting things to read this month that are (tenuously) linked to the idea being a little more engaged with our health.
I was interviewed for the “Strength for yoga” podcast, sharing my expertise in how to discern whether something is scientific or not. Want to have a listen? (or watch, there is a video version too).
5 things to explore this month
Ok I know this is an academic article but it’s fairly accessible and explores an interesting idea: using digital marketing for for-profit companies to disseminate the benefits of wellbeing practices for our health. One of the examples it gives is Lululemon, as a fitness clothing brand, promoting the benefits of yoga in, say, mental health.
Stress isn’t always bad – a little bit of short-term stress (and by stress I don’t mean the kind related to worry) can be good for your cardiovascular and cognitive health. Dad, maybe you shouldn’t retire after all. Mum, keep going to your classes, it’s good for you brain.
Here’s an interesting approach if you are hoping to lose weight this month – just change 1–2 small things. These might be much easier to maintain than more dramatic ones like cutting out whole food groups, severe calorie restriction or planning on running for an hour every day (I’m trying to not eat sweets during the week).
A really interesting TED talk explaining the complexity of health behaviour change, including why just giving people information is not enough.
Sleep is a largely neglected but hugely important health behaviour. Even if you are getting enough sleep, here’s a lovely yoga nidra to practice. I’ve been really into iRest yoga nidra recently, possibly because of the language used that is reminiscent of mindfulness. Try this short and sweet iRest yoga nidra for sleep and see what you think.
5 mind–body research highlights
Yoga did not help with depression in young women
Because it’s important to report the negative results as well as the positive ones! Adding a 9-week mindful yoga intervention to regular treatment offered not benefits to treatment alone in young women with major depression (171 participants so decent size). I can only read the abstract though so I have no idea what the mindful yoga intervention was or if there are any nuances of interest in the results.
Yoga did not help with low back pain
Another negative result one – here the researchers found that yoga (12-week hatha intervention) offered no more benefits than education for low back pain in veterans. This is surprising, as there is other evidence that yoga can help here, so I’m not sure if it’s to do with the participants being older males. No access to full study.
A systematic review and metanalysis of 64 randomised controlled studies evaluating the effects of yoga on blood pressure found that it has a modest but positive effect at lowering blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and BMI (body mass index).
Yoga plus CBT may help tackle stress
A small study found that a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) plus yoga intervention for 12 weeks led to improvements in reported stress among professors. BUT important to note that they compared the effects of yoga plus CBT to doing nothing at all, which means we don’t know if the effects on stress were relevant to yoga, CBT or a combination of the two. Yoga in this context was some poses, breathing exercises and meditation.
The pranayama of tradition vs studies
This is a little random, but this study compared the yoga breathing exercises described in traditional texts vs what gets studied in scientific research, and identified multiple differences in relation to things like depth (for bhastrika) and frequency (khapalabati). No full access on this one.
From the blog
Mending a broken heart, with yoga! – If you are interested in the protective effects of yoga on cardiovascular disease, check out my blog from a couple of years ago, which covers a variety of positive effects that have been reported.
Yoga vs/and CBT – If you are interested in yoga and CBT and how the two compare, I’ve written two blog posts on two studies that compared the two in anxiety (1 and 2).
Yoga as an investment, and why health engagement is vital – Intrigued by the concept of patient empowerment? Have a read through this post, which explains what this means and the benefits (both to the person and the system) that have been discovered by research.
Why everyone should practice yoga – Preliminary research showing that yoga can actually be a tool towards taking a more active role in your health.
Until next month!