More Yoga, Fewer Doctor Visits

Relaxation techniques like yoga linked to fewer doctor visits

If you're sick of doctors' office waiting rooms (or just being sick), you may want to give yoga a try.

Yoga's no cure-all, and it's certainly no replacement for a doctor if you're ill, but a recent study found that patients who practiced deep relaxation techniques — like yoga, meditation or prayer — went to the doctor less frequently than they had before they started using these techniques.

“Meditation and yoga reduce stress, which in turn promotes wellness, which in turn reduces seeking and using healthcare resources,” said lead study author Dr. James Stahl, director of the Institute for Technology Assessment at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an interview with Reuters.

That's one theory, but it's also worth remembering that all this study found was a link — more deep relaxation meant less time spent at the doctor's office — but that doesn't mean that one factor caused the other.

Still, it's a promising theory that adds to an ever-growing body of evidence for the health benefits of practices like yoga and meditation. Past research has linked yoga to improved heart health and decreased chronic pain, blood pressure, stress and anxiety.

For the current study, Dr. Stahl and colleagues looked at 4,452 patients who were taught "relaxation response training" at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. These researchers studied how often the patients used health services before and after receiving the deep relaxation training. Compared to the year before, the year after showed a 43 percent drop in patient use of health services.

Dr. Stahl and team also compared these patients to another group of 13,149 patients who did not learn relaxation techniques. That group's health care use patterns showed little change from one year to the next.

This study was published online Oct. 13 in the journal PLOS One.

Dr. Stahl and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.