Alternative Medicine Center Studies Effects of Yoga vs. Traditional Exercise for the Aging

08/25/00    Portland, Ore.

It's been practiced around the world for more than 5,000 years. Many claim it has the power to provide numerous physical and psychological benefits including relief for conditions like asthma, epilepsy, anxiety and stress. This summer researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University began investigating whether yoga is beneficial to the country's aging population when compared to traditional exercise. The research is being conducted by OHSU's new Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders or ORCCAMIND. The study is one of the four pilot projects funded by the $7.8 million NIH grant that established the alternative medicine research center in 1999.

Currently researchers are looking for healthy, elder participants ages 65 to 85 to take part in the study. Each person will be assigned to one of three groups. The first group will take part in a Hatha yoga class that meets once a week for six months. The second group will undergo a traditional exercise program that involves a regular walking schedule supervised by a personal trainer. A third "wait group" will be observed at their current levels of activity for six months. These participants will then have a chance to take part in either the exercise program or the yoga class. In addition, investigators also are enrolling patients with multiple sclerosis to track the possible benefits for those fighting this debilitating disease.

Patient progress will be measured by observing the participant's attentional abilities, mood, flexibility, memory, quality of life, balance and fatigue. Clinical testing will measure lipid, protein and DNA oxidative injury.

"For decades those who practice and teach yoga have claimed this mind-body technique has the power to improve physical and mental function," said Dennis Bourdette, M.D., an associate professor of neurology in OHSU's School of Medicine and one of the co-principal investigators at ORCCAMIND. "We hope that yoga practice will help improve the quality of life for elders and possibly slow some of the impacts of aging."

The class is taught by experienced yoga teachers and supervised by nationally known yoga instructor Julie Lawrence. She has been observing the positive impact of yoga on healthy elders for more than a decade.

"If we don't move, we age more rapidly," said Lawrence. "Yoga brings the mind to what the body is doing. We hope this will enhance and focus attention."

ORCCAMIND comprises OHSU and five other member institutions. These members include: the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Western States Chiropractic College, the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and the Portland Veteran Affairs Medical Center. While the center is based at OHSU, each ORCCAMIND member institution plays a role in advising the center, directing educational efforts and conducting research.

Editors: This study currently is enrolling new patients. Those interested in taking part can receive additional information by calling 503 494-5650. Yoga and walking groups meet each week on Mondays. Contact Jim Newman in University News and Publications at 503 494-8231 if you are interested in attending.