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Yoga may guard against heart disease, study finds

December 24, 2014

From BBC News.

Doing yoga may be a good way to protect against heart disease, particularly if you cannot do more vigorous exercise, research suggests.

A review in the Netherlands of 37 studies involving nearly 3,000 people found yoga was independently linked to a lowering of heart risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Yoga does not count towards the recommended physical activity that we should all do each week.

Experts say it may still be beneficial.

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing.

There are lots of different types of yoga – tantric, Hatha and Ashtanga to name a few – but most are not strenuous enough to count towards the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity the government says we should get each week to give our heart and lungs a workout.

Yoga does count as a muscle strengthening exercise – something the same guidelines say we should do on two or more days a week, every week.


Prof Myriam Hunink, from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, set out to investigate what effect, if any, yoga might have on heart health.

Compared with no exercise, yoga had significant benefits – it was linked to a lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reports.

When pitched against other types of exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging, yoga was no better or worse based on the same measures of heart risk.

Prof Hunink said: “These results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.”

It is not clear why yoga might be beneficial, but experts say it could be down to its calming effect. Stress has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The benefits could be due to working the muscles and breathing, which can bring more oxygen into the body, leading to lower blood pressure.

“A larger study is recommended though to assess the effects of yoga more fully.”

She said the benefits of yoga on emotional health were well-established.

How Exercise Changes Our DNA

December 22, 2014

By Gretchen Reynolds, Originally Published in The New York Times.

We all know that exercise can make us fitter and reduce our risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. But just how, from start to finish, a run or a bike ride might translate into a healthier life has remained baffling.

Now new research reports that the answer may lie, in part, in our DNA. Exercise, a new study finds, changes the shape and functioning of our genes, an important stop on the way to improved health and fitness.

The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. When genes are turned on, they express proteins that prompt physiological responses elsewhere in the body.

Scientists know that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise. But they hadn’t understood how those genes know how to respond to exercise.

Enter epigenetics, a process by which the operation of genes is changed, but not the DNA itself. Epigenetic changes occur on the outside of the gene, mainly through a process called methylation. In methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body.

Scientists know that methylation patterns change in response to lifestyle. Eating certain diets or being exposed to pollutants, for instance, can change methylation patterns on some of the genes in our DNA and affect what proteins those genes express. Depending on which genes are involved, it may also affect our health and risk for disease.

Far less has been known about exercise and methylation. A few small studies have found that a single bout of exercise leads to immediate changes in the methylation patterns of certain genes in muscle cells. But whether longer-term, regular physical training affects methylation, or how it does, has been unclear.

So for a study published this month in Epigenetics, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, brought them to the lab for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months.

One of the obstacles in the past to precisely studying epigenetic changes has been that so many aspects of our lives affect our methylation patterns, making it difficult to isolate the effects of exercise from those of diet or other behaviors.

The Karolinska scientists overturned that obstacle by the simple expedient of having their volunteers bicycle using only one leg, leaving the other unexercised. In effect, each person became his or her own control group. Both legs would undergo methylation patterns influenced by his or her entire life; but only the pedaling leg would show changes related to exercise.

The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer.

Not surprisingly, the volunteers’ exercised leg was more powerful now than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements.

But the changes within the muscle cells’ DNA were more intriguing. Using sophisticated genomic analysis, the researchers determined that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns. Some showed more methyl groups; some fewer. But the changes were significant and not found in the unexercised leg.

Interestingly, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. And gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied.

Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become.

They were not changed in the unexercised leg.

The upshot is that scientists now better understand one more step in the complicated, multifaceted processes that make exercise so good for us.

Many mysteries still remain, though, said Malene Lindholm, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institute, who led the study. It’s unknown, for example, whether the genetic changes she and her colleagues observed would linger if someone quits exercising and how different amounts or different types of exercise might affect methylation patterns and gene expression. She and her colleagues hope to examine those questions in future studies.

But the message of this study is unambiguous. “Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money,” Ms. Lindholm said, “we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.”

Why Sitting is Killing Us Plus 8 Tips to Fight Back

December 8, 2014

It’s hard to believe that something as seemingly benign as watching a movie or driving to work could pose serious health consequences, but that’s the growing concern among some researchers who say our sedentary culture is shortening our lives.

“Sitting is the new smoking” is the catchphrase for this new anti-inactivity movement, and while it sounds extreme, Dr. James Levine, the physician, author and obesity expert credited with coining it, is not mincing words. In an interview with the L.A. Times [“interview with the L.A. Times” should link to:] earlier this year, Levine said:

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Sure, it’s generally understood by now that sitting around isn’t the route to glowing health, but for years, the advice for a healthy life was pretty much to eat well and exercise for 30 minutes several times a week. What new research is finding, however, is that banking workouts doesn’t negate our long stretches of inactivity the rest of the day. As Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told the New York Times in 2011 [“told the New York Times” should link to:], “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting.”

According to [link to, we sit about 7.7 hours a day — though some results suggest that number might be as high as 15 hours a day. That level of inactivity is linked to a higher risk for many types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more — even among “active” individuals. When you combine our desk-chair-centric work culture with yet more seated activities throughout the day — driving, watching TV, playing video games, socializing at restaurants or bars — that time on our tushes adds up quickly.

So how do we combat all the inactivity built into our lives? Researchers suggest we can start by making changes that incorporate movement naturally throughout the day, as opposed to simply relegating activity to workouts. Start by using the Sitting Time Calculator from [link “sitting time calculator” to:] to determine the approximate number of hours you sit each day, then follow the tips below:

Get a standing or treadmill desk. If the pre-made desks available online are beyond your budget, just hack it; a simple Google search turns up lots of ideas for DIY standing desks.

Incorporate more movement into your work day. Stand when you take calls, walk to speak with a coworker instead of sending her an email, take a walk on your lunch break, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, and park at a distance to allow for a longer walk to the office. If you can bike or walk to work, even better.

Challenge your co-workers to join you. Suggest having “standing” meetings, especially if the meeting will be brief anyway. If you need to meet one-on-one with a co-worker, brainstorm during a walk together rather than over the conference table.

Reconsider the coffee date. Socializing often involves sitting (at bars, restaurants, coffee shops, the movie theater), so get creative when going out on dates or meeting up with friends. Ask your friend or partner to join you for a hike, bike ride, or, depending on the season, a snowshoe or cross-country ski; or get that coffee to go and just take a walk together.

Set a movement timer. Make sure you’re standing up or moving around for every half hour of sitting. Set a reminder alert on your phone or computer.

Track your steps. It doesn’t matter if you use an old-fashioned pedometer, your iPhone’s step counter, or a high-tech fitness tracker — keeping a record of your movement throughout the day is a great way to stay accountable. Challenge a friend or family member to see who can get the most steps in one day.

Stand up or move around during TV commercials. Better yet, stretch or exercise while watching TV. If you’re watching a movie, pause halfway for a movement intermission. If you’re gaming, stand up between sessions and reloads, or just set that timer again for every 30 minutes.

Fight inactivity when you travel. Long trips can add up to a lot sitting. If you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus, use your time waiting in the airport or station to walk around rather than sit and read (there’s plenty of time to do that on the ride, anyway). When traveling by car, be sure to make plenty of pit stops — even if your car doesn’t need to gas up yet, your body still needs to stretch and move.

The bottom line when it comes to the dangers of sitting? Be mindful of how often you do it. Our computer-based lives likely won’t be changing anytime soon, but by simply getting up and moving more throughout the day, you’ll be taking a stand for your health.

Emily Bingham is a freelance contributor. [link Emily Bingham to

Army Crew Yoga

October 29, 2014

Thanks to our friends at Spirituality & Health.

Army Crew Yoga

By Jennie Kiesling

Training peaceful minds at West Point

Imagine a workout room containing about 20 tall, lean, short-haired, clean-shaven, 18-year-old men. Uniform gray shirts labeled with their surnames are carefully tucked into black shorts. You can hear them breathe deeply as they work in unison. Right now they are holding what looks to be a standard push-up position and, just when you expect their commander to demand, “Give me fifty!” she says quietly, “Exhale to Downward Facing Dog!”

This scene is not boot camp but yoga as practiced under my coaching by the Men’s Novice Crew at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Yoga purists may cringe at how “Army Crew Yoga” deviates from “real” yoga. Our sessions rarely last more than 20 to 30 minutes, and the Army Crew boathouse is rarely quiet or calm. Years of practice notwithstanding, I am not a trained instructor; worse, I often delegate to the cadets the responsibility of leading the poses. (Each cadet masters one pose to teach when I’m away.) The mats, which do double duty as stamina circuits, would be banished from any decent yoga studio. In order to avoid alienating my audience (and I have lost one rower who thought yoga heretical), I eschew the word “spiritual.” But I have learned over the years that the beauty of yoga transcends circumstances.

In first introducing yoga to West Point rowers a dozen years ago, I assured them that, by improving their flexibility, yoga would improve their rowing technique, reduce injuries, and teach them to maintain calm under stressful conditions. I denied any interest in chanting, meditation, incense, or the path of enlightenment, other than, of course, through the act of rowing. Over the years, I have become more honest. Since I do not emphasize poses specifically recommended for rowers over those I enjoy teaching, I now admit that Army Crew Yoga is not really about perfecting the rowing stroke. Rather it enhances self-knowledge (Where is that muscle and what can I make it do?) and relaxation under stress (“Hold that pose—and smile!”). As a superb visiting instructor told one class, life challenges us to make honorable choices, and every yoga pose is an opportunity to act with personal integrity. But Army Crew Yoga also provides the team with a chance to laugh at bad jokes and silly poses and to lament that no PE instructors are present to reward them for their handstands.

Like “real” yoga classes, however little time we have, Army Crew Yoga ends with Shavasana or Corpse Pose. And perhaps Shavasana is the secret reason why I want my cadet rowers to do yoga. West Point cadets live under continual stress as they strive to fulfill onerous academic, physical, and military requirements. Few things could be more beneficial to their health and sanity than being ordered to spend five minutes in complete relaxation. And it makes my day to hear them call to me from the dock after a long, tough row, “Coach, is there time for yoga?”

Spreading Yoga to Unlikely Groups

  1. Make it brief: 20 to 30 minutes is fine.
  2. Start with basic poses like Plank Pose.
  3. Make every person learn one pose well enough to teach it.
  4. Talk just enough to whet their interest.
  5. Mix it up. There is no “right” set or sequence of poses.
  6. Remember to breathe.
  7. Find something to laugh about.
  8. Finish with Shavasana.

5 Tips for Helping Your Immune System

October 27, 2014

Stress reduction is essential to boosting your immune system. Here’s the punch list:

  1. Dance
  2. Do your Yoga
  3. Increase your probiotic intake
  4. Get your beauty sleep
  5. Treat yourself to regular massages

Find the full article from the LA Times here.

Yoga helps shrink pain in joints

October 24, 2014

Read the full article from the Detroit Free Press here.

Experts say yoga, the breathing and meditation practice that dates to ancient India, and similar low-impact activities are the best antidote for pain and stiffness that can be the result of a lifetime’s worth of stress and grinding and gravity.

Estimates vary on how many Americans have joint pain, but it’s clear that it’s a growing problem as we live longer and, for many of us, live more actively both in work and play.

Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that 22.7% of U.S. adults — 52.5 million people — have arthritis, a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders. Among the most common is osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease caused by wear and tear on bones and joints.

About 22.7 million of Americans said arthritis limits their daily activities.

“If we lived on the moon, we wouldn’t have arthritis. But with weight, it’s like a mortar and pestle on our joints,” said David Gilboe, a longtime physical therapist based in St. Clair Shores and a board member of the Arthritis Foundation.

Low-impact activities like yoga, tai chi, and pilates are especially helpful in fighting that aging process, according to a growing body of research.

That’s because exercise doesn’t just control weight, which, in turn lowers the pounds-per-square-inch pressure on joints.

The oxygen-rich blood throughout the body in exercise also helps slow loss in bone and muscle and cartilage. It strengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments, which, in turn, helps keep joints properly aligned and at less risk for injury.

It also promotes range of motion, a particular problem for those with arthritis.

And specifically with low-impact activities, all this happens “with less offense to damaged joints,” Gilboe said.

Plus, deep, controlled breathing lowers blood pressure and minimizes the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, and promotes the release of feel-good endorphins, he added.

What is essential?

September 30, 2014

I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it. – Shug in the film The Color Purple

Friends, what is essential? What is true and deep and worthy? 

Lately I have been noticing purple and thinking of this quotation from The Color Purple.  I’m not sure about the “pisses God off” aspect, but I get what Shug means.

Today I made a mistake on an appointment.  I thought the meeting was an hour later than it was, and I missed an important call.  Immediately, the self recriminations began.

Then I began to reflect on what was really going on, why had I made this mistake? After all it was correctly written in my planner, I was looking forward to it, and I had seen it several times …

What it came down to is this: I am so busy being so busy that I did not make time for careful consideration.  In other words: slow down and LOOK, and look not just with the eyes. Slow down enough to create a day that emanates from the heart.

In the end, we were able to reschedule the appointment, but this was yet another expensive lesson in the danger of rushing, of overcrowding time, of busyness, of haste.

Today at yoga I plan to take this lesson to mat.  How will my practice change if bring this hard-won lesson to the asanas?  What if today I slow down in each posture to see what is really there, the essential in the movement and stillness? 

I have a feeling I will be closer to doing true yoga if I slow things down and notice, rather than aiming for achievement in the asanas.  Maybe if I chill out a little, it will allow an inner seeing/knowing to emerge, and I might get a glimpse of what is essential.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.- Antoine de Saint-Exupery