Trial Will Test Benefits of Yoga and Stretching among People at Risk of Diabetes, Heart Disease

By Robin Hindery

A model performs one of the restorative yoga poses that participants in UCSF's PRYSMS study will learn.

UCSF is enrolling participants in a one-year study of the health benefits of yoga and stretching among overweight adults with metabolic syndrome, after a 10-week pilot study yielded promising results.

The “Practicing Restorative Yoga or Stretching for Metabolic Syndrome,” or PRYSMS, study is being conducted in partnership with UC San Diego and funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. It will consist of frequent group classes as well as at least three days per week of home practice, with half of the participants assigned to gentle yoga and the other half to active stretching.

The study will take part in two one-year waves over the next two years, with participants split evenly between UCSF and UC San Diego.

PRYSMS investigators are hoping to enroll approximately 160 underactive, overweight adults aged 21 to 65 who meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, elevated insulin or cholesterol levels, or excess body fat around the waist — that in combination can increase an individual’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. About one-quarter of adults in the United States has some combination of these high-risk conditions, according to the UCSF Department of Medicine.

“We know that diet and exercise work when it comes to reducing an individual’s risk of diabetes and heart disease, but those behaviors are very hard for some people to sustain,” said PRYSMS lead investigator Alka Kanaya, MD, an associate professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and a faculty member at the UCSF Diabetes Center. “If we can offer something novel that is enjoyable and easy to sustain, we can help combat these health epidemics.”

Yoga has been found to improve specific metabolic risk factors, such as blood pressure, body mass index and insulin sensitivity, but the 10-week UCSF pilot trial in 2008 was the first to examine its effects in individuals with metabolic syndrome, said Kanaya, who also led that study.

The pilot study found that after 15 90-minute yoga sessions over a 10-week period, “there was a trend to reduced blood pressure, a significant increase in energy level, and trends to improvement in well-being and stress” among study participants, according to a published report in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.

A model demonstrates one of the active stretching positions that will be used in the PRYSMS study at UCSF.

Unlike standard exercise interventions aimed at patients with metabolic syndrome, the UCSF study did not involve aerobic activity and instead centered on restorative yoga, which involves resting in various poses with the body supported for several minutes at a time.

While the researchers did not conduct a pilot study involving active stretching, its health benefits have been well-documented in medical literature, Kanaya said.

“If restorative yoga or active stretching are effective in reducing metabolic risk factors, the mechanism is likely through relaxation and stress reduction,” she said. “The initial results are encouraging enough to warrant a longer, larger trial of both behavioral interventions.”

Kanaya predicted that trial participants in both the stretching and the yoga groups — which will meet at the same times of the week and at the same frequency for the duration of the study — will have significant health benefits.

Researchers at UCSF and UC San Diego are still seeking participants for the PRYSMS study. For more information or to determine your eligibility, visit the PRYSMS study website or use the following contact information:

  • For UCSF, call 415/885-7547 or email
  • For UC San Diego, call 858/534-8118, or email


Related Links:

Restorative Yoga in Adults with Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized, Controlled Pilot Trial
Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, Sept. 6, 2008

UCSF Diabetes Center