You know stress can affect your health. But you might not have ever thought about it in terms of your wallet.
And now for some more good news for the yogis and meditators out there—but this time it has nothing to do with awesome arms or your libido. New research suggests that practicing these mind-body techniques may actually translate to major healthcare savings later on.
The study, published recently in the journal Plos One, followed more than 17,000 people for roughly 4 years. Over that time period, about 4,500 of the participants were enrolled in an 8-week program offered at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, which teaches complementary mind-body tools such as yoga, meditation, cognitive behavioral skills, and mindfulness; the rest were a control group. For both sets of participants, the researchers tracked how often they used healthcare services, everything from regular doctor's appointments to tests and hospital or emergency room visits, and why.
In the end, they found that on average, those who got the mind-body training used their healthcare 43% less compared to the control group, which translated to an estimated average savings each year of $2,360 per person in emergency room visits. Furthermore, the team estimated that mindfulness training could mean savings of anywhere from $640 to $25,000 per patient per year.
Why? You probably know that stress can affect your health, but you might not realize that stress-related health problems account for the third biggest chunk of healthcare expenditures in the United States—only after heart disease and cancer. In fact, according to a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, 40–60% of primary care visits have a stress-related component.
Stress-related disorders include things like depression and anxiety, but stress can also manifest physically as back pain, headaches, insomnia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel, chest discomfort, and more.
This latest study shows that mind-body interventions offer a way for patients to engage in their own treatment, thus reducing doctors visits and nipping problems in the bud, lead author James E. Stahl, MD, associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, explains to Health. This is especially important, considering the JAMA study showed that of those stress-related primary care visits, only 3% of doctors actually spoke to the patients about ways to manage their stress.
In the long-term, Dr. Stahl hopes to see mind-body interventions and wellness-oriented programs become more widely available and covered by healthcare plans. But in the meantime, the good thing about mind-body exercises and stress relief practices is that there are a number of ways to create your own program. You can start with these great at-home (or work!) yoga sequences, and a goal to do 10 minutes of meditation per day.
Says Dr. Stahl, "Consistency and practice is the key—even doing something for just 10 minutes per day can have a big impact on your health—they all have a cumulative benefit."