RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—According to new figures from Harvard University and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, nearly a third of Americans use some form of complimentary and alternative medicine—things like tai chi, acupuncture, massage, and meditation—in their health regimens. Yoga, deep breathing exercises, and other mind-body therapies were responsible for 75 percent of the alternative practices used, and for good reason: More and more scientific research points to the effectiveness of meditation and talk therapy in treating everything from depression to protecting your immune system.
What the authors of the new survey, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found more interesting was that 3 percent of their sample, representing 6 million Americans, were using those alternative therapies at the suggestion of their primary-care physicians. Previous studies have shown that mainstream physicians aren't always open to the idea of using complimentary medicine therapies, often because they don't fully understand them or appreciate their scientifically demonstrated benefits.
Another interesting statistic from the survey: 16 percent of the respondents self-prescribed alternative mind-body therapies, and those individuals were healthier than people who were referred to alternative therapies by their physicians. The authors noted that that may have been due to physicians' having exhausted all standard medications before suggesting a complimentary treatment.
If you've never tried a mind-body therapy like yoga or meditation, there are lots of reasons you should. Here are four:
#1: Yoga can help treat diabetes. A study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that regular yoga practice can help control glucose and cholesterol levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Learn which yoga poses are best for people with this illness in our story, 10 Yoga Poses for Defeating Diabetes. Find out other surprising ways that yoga can affect your health.
#2: Deep-breathing exercises do more than fill your lungs. Numerous studies have shown that when people suffering from conditions ranging from asthma and hypertension to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and even chronic pain learn healthy breathing techniques, their symptoms improve. To learn proper deep-breathing techniques, read Mind-Body-Mood Advisor: Why You Should Breathe Like a Baby.
#3: Mindfulness meditation can help you cope with chronic pain. Using relaxation techniques was found in one study to lead to double-digit improvements in pain measurements, compared with medications. Mindfulness meditation is an easy relaxation technique to learn and has been found in other studies to reduce chronic pain. For guidance, see To Soothe Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills.
#4: Acupuncture works! Though not one of the more popular alternative therapies in this survey, there are multiple science-based benefits of acupuncture, including reduced back pain and even increased effectiveness of medications your doctor may prescribe. For more proven benefits of this treatment, see 6 Science-Based Benefits of Acupuncture Therapy.