Conquer disease with dogs — downward dogs

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I always get excited when I come across studies showing that you can treat serious health concerns without resorting to prescription drugs. And as I’m sure you’ve also noticed, exercise will always be one of the most effective ways to do it.

But as yesterday’s discussion about high-intensity exercise for Parkinson’s shows, the actual “prescriptions” can vary. And today, I’d like to talk about another essential weapon in your exercise arsenal…

New research shows that practicing yoga just three hours a week for a year can improve your body’s levels of serum adipokines. Those are the proteins that your fat cells secrete. And they play a direct role in inflammation, particularly among patients with elevated blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.

Let’s look a little closer at the study: There was a yoga group and a control group. The former went to small classes of about 10 people, all about an hour long and taught by a certified yoga instructor, three times a week for a year.

These classes started with a 10-minute warm-up, followed by 40 minutes of poses, and concluding with 10 minutes of breathing and relaxation.

At the beginning of the studies, the two groups were well matched — with an average age of 58 years, a mean blood pressure of 141/90 mm Hg, and roughly the same exercise habits. Among both groups, levels of key hormones — including adiponectin, PAI-1, visfatin, chemerin, and leptin — were also similar.

These names probably ring a bell. They’re all inflammatory compounds generated by fat — both the visceral and subcutaneous kind. (Visceral fat is the far more dangerous type — but fat is fat and either way, and you’re better off shedding it.)

But back to the results: After a year of yoga training, waistlines shrunk by four percent in the yoga group versus just two percent in the control group. Not huge numbers on their own — but yoga gives double the benefit.

And it doesn’t stop at a slimmer waist, either. After one year, average levels of all of the inflammatory compounds I mentioned earlier dropped by as much as 27 percent with yoga, as compared to the control group.

And mean levels of adiponectin, which is anti-inflammatory, shot up by 20 percent in the group doing yoga. While decreasing by 16 percent in controls.

The researchers behind this study had already shown that a year of yoga classes could shrink the waistlines and blood pressure levels of patients with metabolic syndrome. (Which is a combo of at least three of the following: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, or low HDL cholesterol levels.)

I think it’s safe to say that yoga’s ability to suppress chronic inflammation — by driving down pro-inflammatory adipokines and driving up anti-inflammatory adipokines — had a role in this benefit.

Which, in the end, means more than protection against diabetes, stroke, or heart disease. Because inflammation really is the root of all evil where disease is concerned — from autoimmune disorders to depression, arthritis, and cancer.

You can’t be healthy if you can’t control inflammation. It’s as simple as that. And I’ll prescribe downward dogs before drugs any day of the week.