The study shows that participants of the BHI programme (yoga and meditation teaching) visit a doctor 43% less often.

“The core belief of the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) that teaching patients mind body approach like meditation and yoga can reduce their stress and improve overall physical health – was proven correct in a preliminary study published this fall in the journal PLOS ONE. The study found that patients who participated in BHI programs reduced their medical visits on average by 43% in the year after taking part.

The study was led by Dr. James E. Stahl of the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment. Dr. Stahl was previously affiliated with BHI and is Chief of General Internal Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“Our study’s primary finding is that programs that train patients to elicit the relaxation response – specifically those taught at the BHI – can also dramatically reduce health care utilization,” Dr. Stahl said. “These programs promote wellness and, in our environment of constrained health care resources, could potentially ease the burden on our health delivery systems at minimal cost and at no real risk.”

The relaxation response was first described more than 40 years ago by Herbert Benson, MD, founder and director emeritus of the BHI and a coauthor of the study. The physiologic opposite of the well-documented fight-or-flight response, the relaxation response is elicited by practices including meditation, deep breathing and prayer and has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of stress-related disorders ranging from anxiety to hypertension. The paper’s authors note that stress-related illnesses such as anxiety and depression are the third highest causes of health expenditures in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer, which also are affected by stress.

“Studies show that 60 to 90 percent of all medical visits are stressrelated. This research proves that we can greatly improve the lives of our patients by integrating stress reduction into our healthcare delivery model,” Dr. Benson said. “This could improve patients’ overall health and reduce healthcare costs dramatically. It’s time to integrate this approach into mainstream medicine.”

Other co-authors of the PLOS One paper37 include BHI Executive Director Dr. Gregory L. Fricchione, Director of Research John W. Denninger, MD, PhD, Medical Director Darshan Mehta, Researcher Michelle Dossett, MD, PhD, and Roberta Goldman; and Scott LaJoie, PhD, University of Louisville.

“The results are promising and it gives us hope that more rigorous study will bear out the findings of this report,” Dr. Fricchione said. “We are committed to doing the rigorous study because we believe it is so important to the health of our healthcare system.”” (38)

“Relaxation-response techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer, could reduce the need for health care services by 43 percent, according to a study at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) that looked at participants in a relaxation-response-focused training program.

Previous studies have shown that eliciting the relaxation response – a physiologic state of deep rest – not only relieves stress and anxiety, but also affects physiologic factors such as blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption.

The paper’s authors noted that stressrelated illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, are the thirdhighest causes of health expenditures in the United States after heart disease and cancer (which also are affected by stress).” (39)