05.11.2018 Mindfulness

Yoga and tai chi link to stroke prevention

Stroke survivors and those at risk urged to focus on yoga and tai chi

Eastern mindfulness-based practices have been recommended as an important therapeutic tool in reducing the risk of stroke.

One of Australia’s biggest health issues could be checked if more people took up yoga or tai chi and reduced their blood pressure, an Australian study has found.

Stroke costs the country $5 billion a year through treatment and loss of productivity, affecting 56,000 Australians in 2017, equivalent to one stroke every nine minutes.

Researchers from Monash University, the University of South Australia (UniSA) and the University of Melbourne found that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) such as yoga and tai chi could reduce hypertension, fatty acids and blood sugar levels – all risk factors for stroke.

Researchers say both Eastern practices have the potential to reduce stroke risk as well as help support stroke survivors.

While physical activity plays an important role in preventing recurrent stroke many stroke survivors may have limited mobility.

“This is where yoga and tai chi are so helpful,” said UniSA researcher, Dr Maarten Immink. “They are gentle, movement-based MBIs which help people focus – a state of mind which stroke survivors often lose – and be active at the same time.”

The researchers analysed 26 studies published between 1985 and 2017 which examined how yoga and tai chi moderated key stroke risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, smoking and alcohol consumption, obesity, anxiety and depression.

UniSA Dean of Health Research, Professor Susan Hillier, said there was increasing evidence that MBIs could be an effective and noninvasive way of reducing hypertension – the biggest stroke risk factor.

“Some evidence suggests that MBIs such as yoga and tai chi regulate blood pressure by teaching people to breathe deeply, balancing and stabilising their autonomic nervous system and lowering their heart rate,” said Prof Hillier.

Nearly one third of adults around the world suffer from high blood pressure, with 23 million additional strokes projected in the next 12 years.

“Survivors of stroke are at an increased risk of another one – 43% likely within 10 years, 32% within five years and 16% within one year – so it is important we find interventions to help reduce the major risk factors,” said Prof Hillier.

Apart from reducing blood pressure, the research shows that MBIs can help improve diabetics’ health by increasing blood and oxygen supply to the tissues, helping to produce insulin, and boosting anti-oxidants.