Yoga & Exercise as Medicine

by | Apr 11, 2015 | Health, Mental Health, Physical Fitness

It looks like schools aren’t the only place where exercise is getting the short shrift these days. According to new research out of Oregon State University, it’s largely absent from the medical school curriculum, too.

Just over half of US medical schools offer no courses on physical activity at all. Another 21% offer only one course. Where any coursework is offered, more than 80% of the time, it’s not required.

Yet we know that exercise – like nutrition, which is also under-addressed in med school curricula – is one of the main tools we have for preventing chronic disease and promoting wellness. The lack of it is one of the reasons why rates of almost wholly preventable illnesses continue to soar worldwide.

Fortunately, more people are starting to pay attention.

The American College of Sports Medicine supports an “Exercise is Medicine” initiative, designed to encourage primary care physicians and other health care providers to include physical activity in the treatment plans of their patients.

Exercise is also a key component of the U.S. government’s “Healthy People 2020” initiative to improve health across the nation, and the National Physical Activity Plan to increase physical activity for all Americans, [co-author Marita K.] Cardinal said.

If medical schools do not include physical activity education in their curriculums, physicians or other health care workers may need to find other ways to educate themselves about exercise and its role in keeping people healthy, or perhaps give the nod to other professionals who can, Cardinal said.

Creating a Culture of Wellness

Increasingly, we are working with medical professionals to help fill this exercise gap in their programs for youth and families – and help improve outcomes.

Staff from the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s hospital, for instance, report improvement in sleep and significant reductions in restraints and medication since Yoga Calm Trainer Kathy Flaminio and Certified Instructor Susan Heitzman began working with a staff nurse four years ago to deliver yoga and mindfulness services directly to patients and clients.

Nurses in the Mayo Clinic’s child and teen psych unit have likewise reported improvements among their patients after several staff members attended our Wellness 1 course. The Clinic has since licensed with Yoga Calm to use several of our activities.

And a regional behavioral health clinic here in the Northwest is about to have several staff members certify completely online to receive group discounts and save on staff time and travel costs.

Medical professionals who have incorporated Yoga Calm into their programs also report an interesting – and wonderful! – side effect they’ve not experienced with other interventions: Staff stress goes down and job satisfaction goes up. Some even take it a step further and provide further training for staff health – such as the U of MN Masonic Children’s Hospital, where Susan has provided staff training in mindfulness-based stress reduction and yoga.

The Benefits of Whole Person Health

Our experience is consistent with the wide variety of research that has shown how yoga and exercise improve both physical and mental/emotional health. Studies have shown their positive impact on depression in both general and medical patient (cancer) populations. Other research has demonstrated that yoga therapy is “an effective, far less toxic adjunct treatment option for severe mental illness,” including conditions such as schizophrenia and PTSD. A study of yoga’s impact on GABA levels showed real improvements in terms of mood and anxiety.

Happily, more and more practitioners are coming to understand that bringing yoga movement and mindfulness into the clinical setting is a low-cost, low-risk, high-benefit service they can provide their patients – with long-term efficacy. For the patients are given tools and strategies they can use outside the clinic – anywhere, anytime, not just in a hospital or treatment center setting.

They are given the opportunity to create real wellness in their lives.

To find out how your treatment facility can arrange Yoga Calm staff trainings, see our Staff Training page or contact us!

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