A new government study has revealed some interesting differences between people who practice yoga, and those who take “natural” supplements or seek out chiropractic care to improve their overall health.
Not only are yoga enthusiasts much more likely to report that their downward dogs and tree poses improve their physical and mental health, they are also more likely to report that yoga motivated them to adopt healthier behaviors, such as eating more nutritiously and doing more aerobic exercise.
Indeed, the study found people who take up yoga are four times more likely to say the practice inspired them to eat healthier and three times more likely to say it encouraged them to run, walk or do some other kind of regular physical activity than those who take supplements or receive chiropractic treatments.
The study, conducted by researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, used data collected from more than 35,000 adults who participated in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
The purpose of the study was to pinpoint why Americans turn to three highly popular so-called complementary approaches to improving physical and mental health: yoga, natural supplements (defined in this study as dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals) and spinal manipulation.
In the 2012 NHIS survey, 17.7 percent of the respondents said they had taken natural supplements, 8.7 percent said they had practiced yoga and 8.4 percent said they had sought spinal manipulation treatment within the previous 30 days.
Most of the yoga practitioners (94 percent) and the natural supplements users (89 percent) said they had turned to those complementary approaches to improve their overall health. Most of the people using spinal manipulation (67 percent), on the other hand, did so to treat a specific health condition.
Among the supplement users, 40 percent said they took the products to improve their body’s immune function, and 22 percent cited improvement of memory or concentration as a reason.
Among the yoga enthusiasts, 30 percent said they did so to either enhance their immune function or to improve their memory or concentration.
Less than 20 percent of the users of spinal manipulation did so for those specific purposes.
There is no good evidence-based research to support claims that any of these complementary practices boost the body’s immune system or improve memory or other thinking skills. Yet many of the people surveyed perceived that they did — a finding that likely reflects the placebo effect.
Indeed, 82 percent of the yoga practitioners, and about 67 percent of the users of supplements and spinal manipulation said their overall health had been improved because of the complementary practices.
Yet, when asked if these approaches had made it easier for them to cope with their health problems, less than 40 percent of the yoga practitioners and the spinal manipulation users and only 25 percent of the supplement users said yes.
Yoga, though, was much more likely than the other two approaches to give people a perceived boost in their mental health. More than 67 percent of the yoga practitioners said they felt better emotionally, compared to 27 percent of the users of spinal manipulation and 21 percent of those taking supplements.
In addition, 86 percent of the yoga practitioners said they had experienced a reduction in stress, compared to 40 percent of the users of spinal manipulation and 20 percent of the supplement users.
A greater proportion of the yoga practitioners (59 percent) were also more likely to say they were sleeping better than the users of spinal manipulation (42 percent) or the users of supplements (21 percent).
Furthermore, the yoga enthusiasts were three times more likely to say they had become motivated to work out more and two to four times more likely to say they had begun to make healthier food choices than the other two groups.
They were also significantly more likely to report that they had cut back or stopped drinking alcohol and had given up cigarettes.
The study was published online November 4 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Statistics Reports.