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A Good Position

A Good PositionTufts nutrition and exercise expert Miriam Nelson says that yoga can provide numerous benefits in terms of both physical and mental well-being.

Boston [01.16.07] The new year, for many, brings a renewed commitment to hit the gym and establish an exercise routine. For those looking for an alternative to weight machines or treadmills, yoga offers another option. Tufts nutrition and exercise expert Miriam Nelson says yoga builds flexibility and muscle strength while offering an added benefit: it can also help improve mental health.

"All forms of exercise help to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, but… also issues around depression, improving sleep, stress management," Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts and associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" program. "If we could just get people doing any type of exercise, it would be great. And yoga is certainly a fabulous exercise."

Nelson said that most Americans are not reaching the surgeon general's recommended amount of moderate exercise, but yoga is one way of helping to meet that goal.

"The greatest asset around yoga in terms of its health benefits are strengthening the core—our abdominals, our back muscles—and also helping with flexibility," she said on NPR. "It also helps with meditation and stress control."

Nelson said yoga can also help alleviate pain, particularly back pain, by strengthening muscles and aiding in flexibility.

"When someone is in pain, they can't believe that moving is going to help them," she said on the program. "We now know that in almost every instance, getting some movement, getting some strength in there can really help to speed along the healing process and make sure that this doesn't come back again."

Even people recovering from cancer, who can face problems stemming from fatigue, depression, sleeplessness and lack of exercise, can benefit both physically and mentally from yoga, Nelson told NPR.

"There's something special about yoga with the whole meditative contemplativeness, the breathing that connects you with the ground, connects you with life," she explained. "That's very, very important."

As with any exercise regimen, Nelson cautioned, one shouldn't rush into it.

"The most important thing when you're thinking about yoga is that you have a good instructor, that you start out very slowly, and that you progress very slowly," she explained on the program.

While Nelson said that yoga is a great exercise for men and women of all ages, she said that the most important thing is ultimately finding, and sticking to, a form of exercise that is enjoyable.

"Whatever you like the most is what you should be doing, because that's what you're going to keep up with and you're going to be most compliant with," she explained to NPR. "If it's yoga that you really enjoy, that's what you should be doing. Mixing up your exercise is important but getting and doing something is by far the most important thing."


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