Numerous studies have linked mindfulness meditation practices, such as yoga and seated meditation, to health perks including improved sleep, help coping with stress, and even enhanced heart and brain health. Now, new research suggests there are also benefits of mindfulness for diabetes patients.
Those who meditate and engage in other types of mind-body activities have been shown to experience improvements in glycemic control and blood sugar levels.
This means that if you’re struggling with your metabolic health, it’s worth adding mind-body practices to your daily self-care routine. This can include different types of meditation, yoga and breathing exercises.
Study Findings: Mindfulness Linked to Blood Sugar Control
A 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine found that mind-body interventions helped improve glycemic control in adults with type 2 diabetes.
This is a promising finding considering that more than half (51%) of people with type 2 diabetes fail to keep their blood sugar levels within the target range.
This particular analysis, which included 28 studies, focused on changes in HbA1c and fasting blood glucose (FBG) among patients with type 2 diabetes after they engaged in mind-body practices. HbA1c is a hemoglobin test that reveals average blood sugar levels over the past several months, while FBG measures someone blood sugar level after an overnight fast.
Results showed a statistically significant and clinically relevant mean reduction in HbA1c in all intervention subgroups, including those with diabetes who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction, qigong and yoga. The greatest effects were seen among those who did yoga.
The new analysis found that, on average, mind-body practices led to a reduction of 0.84% in participants’ HbA1c. Yoga led to an average reduction of about 1%.
Over the study period, for every additional day of yoga practice per week that someone completed, HbA1c decreased by 0.22% on average. However, there was no significant association found between the frequency of weekly yoga practice and change in FBG over the study period.
Mind and body practices are strongly associated with improvement in glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Researchers involved in this analysis, as well as previous studies, believe that mindfulness, yoga and qigong can “be effective, complementary, non-pharmacological interventions for type 2 diabetes.”
What It Means
How can mindfulness help with diabetes?
Because mind-body practices help people handle stress, they’re also capable of positively influencing hormone production. One study found that meditation is associated with reductions in stress and negative emotions and improvements in patient attitude, health-related behaviors and coping skills.
More vigorous types of mind-body activities, such as fast-paced yoga classes, can also function as exercise, which is known to help improve blood glucose levels.
Finally, studies suggest that becoming more mindful often leads to greater self-awareness, greater self-care and improvements in quality of life, including among those with diabetes. This in turn can contribute to a generally healthy lifestyle and habits, such as choosing more nourishing foods, consuming less alcohol and getting adequate sleep.
Which meditation is best for diabetes?
There are lots of ways to meditate depending on your preferences. For example, yoga is considered a “moving/active meditation” because it involves focusing on your breath and linking it with movements and different postures. Tai chi and qigong are similar.
In the analysis described above, yoga had the biggest impact on blood sugar levels, but other types of mediation are beneficial for diabetics, too, including those that involve sitting quietly and focusing attention on your breath or focusing on sounds, body sensations, images or mantras.
Can meditation prevent diabetes?
In all likelihood, mindfulness and meditation can help promote metabolic health, but alone they are not enough to prevent diabetes if someone also doesn’t eat well and exercise.
Mind-body practices are considered “complimentary treatment approaches” and are intended to be used along with other treatments, such as a balanced diet, weight management, physical activity and medication when necessary.
Tips to Practice Mindfulness (+ Manage Blood Sugar)
If you’re new to mindfulness, other forms of meditation or yoga and want to know how to begin practicing, here are some tips:
- To do a basic mindfulness meditation, start by finding a quiet and calm place to sit or lay down where you’re comfortable and free from distractions. Close your eyes, breath in and out of your nose slowly, and keep your attention on your breath. When your attention wanders, bring it back to your breath and body. Continue doing this for five to 20 minutes.
- If you’re new to doing yoga, start with a beginner class either in person or online. Remember to keep breathing throughout the class, linking your movements with your breath as much as possible.
To help keep blood sugar levels within the healthy range, experts recommend:
- Eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet that is low in processed foods (especially those with added sugar and refined grains).
- Being active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.
- Speaking with your doctor about the need for medication.
- How do you calm down diabetes? A new meta-analysis found benefits of mindfulness for diabetes management, including mind-body practices like yoga and qigong.
- Mindfulness seems to help manage blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, likely because it helps people cope with stress and make better decisions for their overall health.
- Results from the analysis indicate that yoga has the greatest effect on glycemic control, but meditation, tai chi and qigong are helpful too.