The benefits of yoga are widely known. The practice originated over 5,000 years ago in India. This ancient art of bending and breathing has certainly stood the test of times with modern day enthusiasts spanning the globe.
Many of us turn to a yoga practice, not only for strength and flexibility, but also to become more mindful of the connection between our mind, body and spirit. We tend to associate cardio fitness with more rigorous exercises such as running, so it may come as a surprise to learn that recent studies have shown yoga practice can be particularly beneficial when it comes to our heart health.
One recent study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, looked at participants ranging in age and overall physical health. In her article “Yoga May Benefit Heart Health” that appeared in Reuters, Janice Neumann explains,
"The study team analyzed 37 randomized, controlled trials involving 2,768 people through December 2013. The trials either looked at yoga compared to no exercise or to aerobic exercises. Participants’ average age was 50 and they were followed for anywhere from 12 weeks to one year.”
By looking at yoga, researchers were able to observe how the combination of meditation, breathing and physical activity can affect the heart. What they found was that practicing yoga lowered body mass index as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Julie Corliss, the Executive Editor of Harvard Heart Letter, and a yoga enthusiast herself, takes a deeper look into the study’s findings in this month’s Harvard Health Blog post. She writes,
"Performing a variety of yoga postures gently stretches and exercises muscles. This helps them become more sensitive to insulin, which is important for controlling blood sugar. Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure. Mind-calming meditation, another key part of yoga, quiets the nervous system and eases stress. All of these improvements may help prevent heart disease, and can definitely help people with cardiovascular problems.”
If you have an established yoga practice, these added benefits from your time on the mat come as good news. If you are new to yoga it’s always a good idea to remember that you know your own body the best, so listen to it mindfully as you deepen your heart space and your heart health. Namaste!
The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials via European Journal of Preventative Cardiology
More than a stretch: Yoga’s benefits may extend to the heart via Harvard Health Publications