Yoga Enthusiasts Do It for Wellness, Report Health Benefits

Megan Brooks

November 06, 2015

Adults in the United States turn to yoga and natural supplements more for reasons of wellness than to treat a specific health problem. And people who practice yoga report more positive health benefits than those opting for supplements and spinal manipulation.

"Though yoga seems to play the biggest role, people who use a variety of complementary health approaches reported better well-being," Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), said in a news release.

"This may suggest that people perceive more wellness benefit when they are actively involved in their health, for example, by practicing yoga. More research is needed to better understand the ways yoga and other approaches impact overall health," Dr Briggs said.


The findings, published online November 4 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Statistics Reports, stem from 34,525 adults aged 18 years and older who responded to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey.

The analysis by Barbara J. Stussman and colleagues at the NCCIH provides national estimates of selected wellness-related reasons for and outcomes from the use of three complementary health tactics: natural product supplements (dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals), yoga, and spinal manipulation.

The results indicate that people used natural products and practiced yoga more for reasons of wellness than to treat a specific condition, whereas the opposite was true for those who reported spinal manipulation, the researchers say.

Yoga enthusiasts were more likely than users of natural products and spinal manipulation to report specific wellness-related outcomes, such as feeling better emotionally. Although the analysis did not show why yoga users reported greater wellness, more than 70% of yoga users cited a "focus on the whole person-mind, body and spirit" as a reason for practicing yoga. People who practiced yoga were also more apt to report exercising more, eating better, and cutting back on smoking and drinking alcohol. Other key findings of the analysis include the following:

  • "General wellness or disease prevention" was the most common wellness-related reason for use of each of the three approaches.

  • More than two thirds of users of all three complementary health approaches reported that their use improved their overall health and made them feel better.

  • Nearly two thirds of people who practice yoga reported that participating in yoga motivated them to exercise more regularly, and 4 of 10 reported they were motivated to eat healthier. More than 80% of yoga users reported that practicing yoga reduced stress. Roughly 30% of yoga users expected improved immune function or improved memory or concentration from yoga.

  • Although users of dietary supplements were twice as likely to report wellness than treatment as a reason for taking supplements, fewer than 1 in 4 reported reduced stress, better sleep, or feeling better emotionally as a result of taking dietary supplements.

  • More than 60% of those who used spinal manipulation reported doing so to treat a specific health condition, and more than 50% did so for general wellness or disease prevention.

"Our results suggest that complementary health approaches may play an important role in promoting positive health behaviors, including those we know impact chronic conditions," Stussman said in the news release.

Target Wellness, Not Illness

Commenting on the findings, Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, dean, School of Public Health, Boston University, told Medscape Medical News, "There is relatively little evidence that complementary approaches result in lowering risk of particular diseases. These approaches have, however, been shown to be associated with better overall health-related quality of life. It is reasonable then that most who use complementary and alternative approaches do so to generally 'feel better' — that is probably indeed the right reason to engage in these practices."

Jun J Mao, MD, MSCE, associate professor and director of integrative medicine, Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health and Epidemiology, at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, told Medscape Medical News, "Working with patients, we know empirically that people use yoga as well as other integrative therapies for wellness. This study provides important quantitative estimates, which can have important healthcare practice implications.

"Traditionally, medicine targets treating illness; however, lack of illness does not equal to wellness for many people. Integrative health practices like yoga are likely to target multiple aspects of health, such as breathing, posture, and calming the mind, so people have an overall sense of well-being. Certainly, more research is needed to document such health benefits," added Dr Mao, who, like Dr Galea, was not involved in the study.

Natl Health Stat Report. Published online November 4, 2015. Full text


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