Aetna employees get evidence-based health benefits from mind-body stress management programs
While stress is a near universal theme in people’s lives, for some, high or chronic stress can take a major toll on the mind and body. To help individuals deal with stress more effectively and to help employers reduce the impact of stress on their business, Aetna has announced the availability of two new mind-body stress reduction workplace programs – Mindfulness at Work™ (mindfulness meditation) and Viniyoga Stress Reduction (therapeutic Viniyoga).
Developed and studied in a collaborative effort with Aetna, Duke Integrative Medicine, eMindful and the American Viniyoga Institute, these programs have helped participants significantly reduce their perceived stress levels while improving their ability to respond to stress.
The Mindfulness at Work™ (mindfulness meditation) and Viniyoga Stress Reduction (therapeutic Viniyoga) programs were part of the “Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace” clinical trial, and the study results were published recently in the online version of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
Participants in the mind-body stress reduction treatment groups (mindfulness and Viniyoga) showed significant improvements in perceived stress with 36 and 33 percent decreases in stress levels respectively, as compared to an 18 percent reduction for the control group as measured with the Perceived Stress Scale. Participants in the mind-body interventions also saw significant improvements in various heart rate measurements, suggesting that their bodies were better able to manage stress. The study results were demonstrated using these new programs that are about half the length of other commonly used mind-body interventions. Building on the success of the study, both programs are now available to Aetna’s self-insured commercial customers.
“Stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, so there is a strong need for programs that help people reduce stress as part of achieving their best health,” said Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini. “The results from the mind-body study provide evidence that these mind-body approaches can be an effective complement to conventional medicine and may help people improve their health, something that I have experienced personally.”
Importantly, among all individuals who were screened for the study, those reporting the highest stress level (top quintile) had nearly $2,000 higher medical costs for the preceding year than those reporting the lowest stress levels.
“The connection between higher stress levels and higher medical costs is logical. Highly stressed individuals are at greater risk for many different health conditions, such as coronary heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and obesity,” said Dr. Ruth Q. Wolever, Director of Research and Clinical Health Psychologist at Duke Integrative Medicine and Principal Investigator on the study. “Reducing stress can help reduce the risk for associated health conditions and points to the potential in helping reduce overall health care costs.”
Mindfulness at Work™ and Viniyoga Stress Reduction Programs
Mindfulness at Work™ is a stress management program based upon the principles and practices of mindfulness meditation. Developed and offered by eMindful, the program teaches relatively brief (5-15 minutes) mindfulness practices that explicitly target work-related stress and work-life balance, and are specifically designed to be used at work.
The study analyzed the impact of the Mindfulness at Work™ program in two different settings with the same content. While one group received in-person instruction, the other group accessed the program through a virtual online classroom that used video, audio and instant messaging chat. The study showed statistically equivalent results between the online mindfulness classes and in-person delivery, and retention was better in the online classes.
The Viniyoga Stress Reduction program is a 12-week therapeutic yoga-based program developed by American Viniyoga Institute founder Gary Kraftsow. Participants received instruction for managing stress including physical yoga postures, breathing techniques, guided relaxation and mental skills. The classes also provided coping strategies for dealing with stressful events and promoted use of home and office strategies for reducing stress through yoga. The program offered weekly in-person classes, home practice handouts and yoga break handouts for home and office use.
The study participants included 239 Aetna employees in California and Connecticut who volunteered for the two mind-body stress reduction programs. As part of the studies, 96 employees were randomly assigned to mindfulness-based classes, 90 were randomly assigned to therapeutic yoga classes and 53 were randomly assigned to the control group.
Since the study concluded in 2010, Aetna has expanded the availability of the programs to all Aetna employees nationwide. In addition, Aetna began implementing the mind-body stress reduction programs with several customers and has received strong interest from other customers in a wide range of sectors, including financial services and health care service providers.
“We have seen first-hand how these mind-body programs have helped our employees deal with stress more effectively and help them achieve better overall health,” said Elease Wright, head of human resources at Aetna. “We are excited to offer these programs to more Aetna employees and are confident that our customers that implement the mind-body programs will see similar results with their employees and lower costs associated with stress.”
eMindful, Inc. (www.eMindful.com) is the nation’s leading evidence-based provider of live, online mind-body wellness programs. Its courses are led by highly credentialed instructors who deliver engaging curriculums in a virtual classroom to participants around the world. With the ability of participants and instructors to interact with each other in a real-time format the resultant experience produces an effective and efficient means of learning. eMindful, Inc. is based in Vero Beach, FL and has support facilities throughout the United States.
About Duke Integrative Medicine
Duke Integrative Medicine is a portal to the vast spectrum of scientific advances at Duke Medicine, and a gateway to patients’ optimal health and healing. The focus of patient care is on cutting-edge medical research and evidence based complementary therapies. Experts partner with patients -- providing treatments, resources, time and support -- so they can address and plan for all their health needs and goals. Duke Integrative Medicine also has comprehensive programs that focus on Professional Education, Research, and Medical Education. For more information, see www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org
About American Viniyoga Institute
American Viniyoga Institute (AVI) is an organization of yoga practitioners and professionals sharing core values, guided by the teachings of Viniyoga, and dedicated to offering quality experiential educational and professional training opportunities in the fields of health and fitness, therapy and self-care and personal transformation. AVI (www.viniyoga.com) is a leader in the United States in training advanced-level Viniyoga teachers and yoga therapists.