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Why is Yoga the Perfect Match for Shift Workers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost 15 million Americans work full time on evening, night, rotating, or other irregular schedules. For those who don’t work nights or irregular shifts, the immediate drawback of this arrangement may be the ‘hassle’ of not being in sync with family and friends. However, shift work is linked to an array of health and safety risks. The main problem is the disruption of our circadian rhythm (which produces chemicals that make us sleepy at night and awake during the day). Negative health effects include a greater risk of anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, reduction in sleep quantity and quality, etc. We all know that yoga can boost our health in general as well as specific ways. What would you say if you knew that just by grabbing your affirmat yoga mat and making time for regular yoga practise, you could reverse many of the ill effects of shift work?


Yoga vs. Anxiety and Depression

Numerous studies have proven yoga’s ability to reduce levels of stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone, when present at chronically high levels, can lead to everything from heart disease to Type 2 diabetes. Shift work is strongly associated with these mental conditions. One study carried out by scientists in Germany focused on two groups of participants who had recently experienced distress (one group practiced yoga twice a week, the other didn’t). The study found that after three months, the yoga group showed lesser stress, depression, and anxiety than the other group. Researchers feel that a big reason for this phenomenon is pranayamic breathing, which calms the stress response. Yoga is currently an important complementary therapy in many settings in which stress is an issue (including substance abuse and eating disorder recovery centers). However, it is also a powerful preventive measure that can be used in high risk cases – as occurs with shift workers.


Yoga Boosts the Working Memory

Even if one tries to obtain at least eight hours of sleep a day, working late or irregular hours can affect your mental clarity in many ways, making you feel groggy and affecting the way you perform your work. A 2017 study showed that even if you work night shifts, the more regular your hours are, the better. In the study, individuals who worked seven consecutive night shifts had a significantly better cognitive performance and sleep quality than those who worked four consecutive night shifts. A 2014 study found that yoga can boost cognitive performance by improving the working memory, mental set shifting and mental flexibility. The working memory is vital for functions such as multi-tasking and performing calculations – skills which often come into play in jobs such as nursing and medicine, in which night shifts are a matter of course.


Yoga vs. Obesity

Night shift is associated with a 29% increased risk of becoming obese. Yoga, in conjunction with both cardiovascular and strength workouts, is an ideal way to ensure this doesn’t happen. In a review of existing literature, A Bernstein et al found that yoga can help in weight loss and maintenance if various ways. A session burns a significant number of calories, improves the mood/stress (which reduces related bingeing), enables people to connect better with their bodies (so they know when they are full), and reduces back and joint pain (so that people can more freely enjoy other types of exercise).

Yoga is a great ally for those working night and irregular shifts because it battles stress, helps people stay at a healthy weight, and improves vitality. Try to make yoga practice part of your weekly routine and don’t forget to back its benefits with other forms of exercise. Finally, consume a sound diet to avoid the energy slumps that can result from a poor diet.



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