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Yoga for diabetes: breathe, relax, stretch…and reduce your blood sugar levels?

The Bottom Line

  • Diabetes is on the rise in Canada and produces many serious side effects, so effective strategies to manage diabetes are crucial. 
  • Yoga may help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index. 
  • Adding yoga to your normal diabetes care could help you better manage this condition.

Breathe, relax, stretch. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and many tout its ability to strengthen the body, mind and spirit. Mounting evidence suggests that yoga may also help us cope with various health conditions that affect us as we age, including cancer (1) and asthma (2).

In fact, yoga has gained tremendous popularity in recent years (3), but what is it exactly?

Yoga is a sequence of strengthening and stretching poses linked with deep breathing, meditation, or relaxation (4). Although there are many different types of yoga to choose from (4), all revolve around the core principles of balancing and improving a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Closely linked to meditation, yoga is known for being a stress-reduction technique (5).

Diabetes is a growing epidemic that affects millions of Canadians (6) and yields serious side effects, such as blindness, nerve damage, and stroke (7). Can embracing your inner yogi help you manage your diabetes?


What the research tells us

A recent systematic review found that people with type 2 diabetes who practiced yoga – for an average of 50 sessions, lasting one hour, over 12 weeks – experienced better control of their blood sugar, compared to people with type 2 diabetes who did not practice yoga. Small to medium improvements were also seen in cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index, but no effect on weight loss was observed (8).

Similarly, another review found that yoga may be beneficial when used as a complementary therapy. That means when yoga was combined with other diabetes management techniques (e.g., standard diabetes care, education, lifestyle modification, diet control, or medication), people with type 2 diabetes were better able to control their blood sugar levels (9).

When looking at yoga as a leisure-time activity, best results may be achieved when people engage in it more than 3 times per week, for eight or more weeks, according to the findings of a third review (10). More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of yoga on diabetes management (8;9).

If you have type 2 diabetes, consider embracing your inner yogi. This doesn’t mean that you have to bend yourself into a pretzel, but making yoga part of your life may help you manage the disease.


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References

  1. Cramer H, Lauche R, Klose P, et al. Yoga for improving health-related quality of life, mental health and cancer-related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017; 1:CD010802. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010802.pub2.
  2. Yang ZY, Zhong HB, Mao C, et al. Yoga for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016; 4:CD010346. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010346.pub2.
  3. Clarke TC, Black LI, Stussman BJ, et al. Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2002-2012. Natl Health Stat Report. 2015; 10(70):1-16. 
  4. Watson, S. Yoga. [Internet] 2017. [cited March 2018]. Available from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/yoga-workouts  
  5. Sengupta, P. Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. Int J Prev Med. 2012; 3(7):444-458. 
  6. Diabetes Canada. Diabetes statistics in Canada. [Internet] 2018. [cited March 2018]. Available from http://www.diabetes.ca/how-you-can-help/advocate/why-federal-leadership-is-essential/diabetes-statistics-in-canada 
  7. Health Canada. Type 2 diabetes. [Internet] 2015. [cited March 2018]. Available from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/type-2-diabetes.html 
  8. Thind H, Lantini R, Balletto BL, et al. The effects of yoga among adults with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Prev Med. 2017; 105:116-126. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.08.017.  
  9. Kumar V, Jagannathan A, Philip M, et al. Role of yoga for patients with type II diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2016; 25:104-112. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.02.001. 
  10. Pai LW, Li TC, Hwu YJ, et al. The effectiveness of regular leisure-time physical activities on long-term glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Red Clin Pract. 2016; 113:77-89. doi: 10.1016/j.diabetes.2016.01.011. 

DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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