If you’re not already practicing mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, here’s some encouragement to get started: a new review of scientific studies published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that mind-body interventions may change our bodies’ response to stress on a molecular level, according to an article by Coventry University in Pionic on the findings.

Researchers from the universities of Coventry and Radboud analyzed 18 studies with a total of 846 participants over 11 years, according to the article on Pionic. The researchers analyzed how mind-body interventions like mindfulness and Tai Chi affect the way our genes work to “influence the biological make-up of the body, the brain and the immune system,” according to Coventry University. They found that mind-body interventions decreased production of a specific molecule—called nuclear factor kappa B, or Nf-kB—that’s related to how our body responds to stress.

Usually, when we’re exposed to stressful events, major and minor alike, our sympathetic nervous system (the “fight-or-flight” response) starts a reaction, which increases production of NF-kB, leading to cellular inflammation, Coventry University wrote. In our hunter-gatherer days, that response to stress was how we stayed alive. But in today’s world, we’re exposed to stress so frequently that, over time, the resultant inflammation can lead to health issues such as cancer and depression.

According to the review, people who practice mind-body interventions experienced the opposite reaction, leading to a reduced risk for inflammation-related health conditions. “Put simply,” lead researcher Ivana Buric of Coventry University said, mind-body interventions “cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well-being.” 

“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation,” Buric said. “But what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.”

This review adds to the growing body of research supporting the importance of mind-body interventions like mindfulness for our mental and physical health. While more research needs to be done to determine which methods yield the most benefits, this review is an important step in educating future researchers—and the public—about the positive impact of such methods on our overall well-being.

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