Stress-related health issues are responsible for up to 80% of doctor visits and, behind heart disease and cancer, account for the third highest health care expenditures. However, only 3% of doctors actually discuss how to reduce stress with their patients.
Mind-body practices such as meditation and yoga have been shown to decrease your body’s stress response by making your relaxation response stronger and reducing stress hormones such as cortisol. Yoga has been displayed to have several health benefits including helping relieve anxiety and depression and improving heart health.
Dr. James E. Stahl and his team of researchers from Harvard examined a mind-body relaxation program supplied through the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The program, which lasts 8 weeks, taught volunteers many different mind-body approaches, including positive psychology, cognitive behavioural skills, mindfulness, yoga and meditation. The volunteers of the study took part in weekly sessions and also practiced at home.
The researchers found that those in the relaxation program used 43% less medical services than they did the previous year, saving an average of $2,360 each in emergency room visits. This means that such meditation and yoga practices could result in health care savings of up to $25,500 each year, per patient.
Will insurance pay?
Meditation and yoga programs are soaring in popularity. Almost one in ten Americans practices yoga and 45% of people not practicing yoga are interested in giving it a try. Americans are also employing other types of complimentary health therapies like deep breathing (11%) and meditation (8%).
A lot of health care plans do not cover yoga or meditation, however some offer discounts for fitness programs including tai chi or yoga. States like Washington need private health insurers to cover licensed complimentary health care providers, but several states do not. That could change soon, though.
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that health insurers cover prevention-oriented and wellness therapies that are both evidence-based and low-cost, as both yoga and meditation are. The article examines a study of Aetna employees who took part in Aetna’s mindfulness program and enjoyed a 28% reduction in stress, 19% less pain, 20% better sleep, as well as a boost in worker productivity worth about $3,000 per employee per year. The company provides free meditation and yoga programs to its employees.