Yoga might be as good as cycling or brisk walking in lowering your risk of heart disease and similar problems, according to a recent report from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Brisk walking, cycling, and other kinds of aerobic exercise have been shown to help to reduce your risk of heart and circulation problems. Aerobic exercise also protects against metabolic syndrome – a dangerous combination of factors such as extra body fat, high cholesterol, high blood sugar levels and raised blood pressure.
Researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and America’s Harvard School of Public Health wanted to find out if non-aerobic exercises – such as yoga – could have similar advantages to aerobic exercises such as jogging.
Yoga originated in India
Originating in India, yoga is an ancient mind-body practice that uses flexibility, strength, breathing and deep relaxation to increase mental and physical wellbeing.
Investigators reviewed 37 studies that involved nearly 3000 people. Half of these people were randomly selected to do yoga, meanwhile the other groups either did no exercise at all, or engaged in another kind of aerobic exercise, such as fast walking or cycling.
Compared with the group who did no exercise at all, participants who did yoga had healthier heart rates, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They even lost weight, on average about 2–3kg.
When the yoga participants were compared with those doing aerobic exercise (such as cycling), researchers discovered similar improvements among both groups. Indicating that both aerobic and non-aerobic forms of exercise might have similar heart and metabolic advantages.
"This finding is significant as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise may still achieve similar benefits in cardiovascular disease risk reduction," says researcher Myriam Hunink, of Erasmus University in the Netherlands and Harvard University in the US.
Exercise & stress relief play vital role
The researchers don’t know why yoga is so helpful but say the merging of exercise and stress relief may play a vital role. The advantages may also be from working the muscles while focusing on breathing, as this may transfer more oxygen into the body, causing reduced blood pressure.
Yoga has other advantages, including being gentler on your muscles, ligaments, and bones than most aerobic exercises. Therefore yoga may appeal to people with less physical ability like those with heart conditions, the elderly, or people who suffer musculoskeletal or joint pain. Yoga may also increase wellbeing more than other types of exercise, by reducing stress and anxiety, and it may appeal to those who aren’t interested in other types of physical exercise such as jogging, swimming or cycling.
However, more in depth and larger scale research is needed to confirm the heart and metabolic benefits of practicing yoga. Further research around the types of yoga practices people are doing, how regularly and for how long, is also needed.
- Chu P, Gotink RA, Yeh GY, et al. The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Published online 16 December 2014.
Written by: Adam May, December 2014.