The commonly accepted benefits of yoga are numerous. It’s thought to improve flexibility, reduce stress, improve posture, build muscle strength, increase focus, enhance mood, improve balance – the list goes on and on. Yoga is often also associated with an overall healthy lifestyle that involves eating nutritious foods in smaller portions. In addition, some practitioners adopt the more spiritual and meditative elements of yoga, which allow them to experience stress relief, relaxation and an overall piece of mind. Despite all these benefits, however, yoga does have its naysayers. People who criticize yoga often state that its effects are exaggerated and that it’s not exactly “exercise.” Indeed, yoga programs don’t always have the aerobic elements that are essential for achieving certain health goals such as weight loss. Now, however, a new study suggests that yoga could be just as effective as aerobic exercise when it comes to heart health.
Yoga Has the Same Benefits as Biking or Walking
The new study, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, involved a meta-analysis of 32 randomized and controlled trials. A meta-analysis means that researchers examined findings from several other studies rather than conducting new research. The total number of people studied totaled 2,768, and the average age of each participant was 50. When compared to control groups that did not exercise, yoga practitioners were found to have significant health improvements. They included:
- Lower body weight – yoga practitioners weighed an average 2.32 kg (5.11 lbs) less
- Lower heart rate – people who did yoga had 5.27 fewer beats per minute on average
- Lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- Lower LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels
- Lower triglyceride levels
High blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels are serious risk factors for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both women and men in America. Around 600,000 people die in the U.S. each year due to heart disease – that’s about one in every four deaths. When it comes to reducing the risks of heart disease, this study suggests that yoga is no less effective than moderate walking or biking.
How Is It Possible?
If yoga programs involve mostly stretching without much aerobic movement, how can it be providing weight loss and heart benefits? Researchers have several theories. First of all, working different muscle groups while focusing on breathing can bring increased amounts of oxygen into the body, which can in turn lead to lower blood pressure. Also, one of the main benefits of yoga is stress relief. It’s thought that stress can lead to high blood pressure, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, smoking and overeating – all of which increase the chances of getting heart disease. So, the relaxation and meditation sought while doing yoga could play a large part in reducing these risk factors. In other words, yoga can improve emotional health and emotional health can improve physical health.
Benefits of Yoga: The Bottom Line
Researchers admit that the study is limited due to relatively small sample sizes and the varying nature of the different studies examined. However, the study does make the landmark suggestion that yoga must be considered exercise rather than just a vaguely spiritual routine involving different body poses. At the very least, doing yoga is better than getting no exercise at all.