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Yoga Boosts Cardiovascular Fitness and Psychological Health Study Shows
There has been an ongoing debate regarding yoga’s ability to improve cardiovascular and physical fitness. A new study suggests that, for sedentary college students, regular Vinyasa yoga practice may boost both fitness and mental health, and reduce stress.
In the study, researchers tested the hypothesis that yogis who performed sun salutations that increased their heart rate into cardiac endurance zones, would demonstrate physical and heart health benefits. They randomly assigned twenty-five, sedentary college students to either 8-weeks of Vinyasa yoga, 1 hour per day, 3 days per week (11 students), or a no-treatment control group (14 students). They measured change along a number of dimensions of health before and after the intervention in both groups.
Following 8 weeks, sedentary students in the yoga group showed significant physical gains compared to the control group. These included decreased cardiac output, and increased cardiac efficiency, and decreased plasma control. In addition, yoga group members had a significantly reduced body fat percentage, and greater upper and lower body muscle strength. Collectively, this suggests that yoga group participants experienced significant physical and heart health benefits after only 8 weeks of consistent yoga practice.
Yoga group members also demonstrated improved psychological wellbeing at the end of the Vinyasa yoga intervention. This included significantly lower ratings of perceived stress, greater self-acceptance, and better relationships with others. In addition, plasma cortisol levels, a biomarker of stress, were significantly lower in yoga group participants than controls.
Taken together, these findings suggest that Vinyasa yoga may promote physical and psychological health and well-being in sedentary college students, and also provide the important function of stress relief. This may be particularly important for those who are reluctant to take up other forms of vigorous aerobic exercise like running or cycling.
B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, yoga and mindfulness expert and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success - Integrating the Science of Mind, Body and Brain. Her mission is to reduce stress, increase health and well-being and improve the quality of relationships. She offers classes, workshops, writing and research that combine the wisdom of applied neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychology and contemplative science and practice. Her goal is to empower individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication to strengthen relationships, release dysfunctional patterns and unlock new and healthy ways of being. Dr. Bullock is also the Founding Director and Principal Consultant of the International Science & Education Alliance, an organization devoted to exceptional research, program evaluation, assessment design, strategic planning and capacity building to support equity, programmatic diversity and scientific integrity, and promote effective leadership, decision-making and social change. Bullock is a Certified Viniyoga Therapist and Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy (IHYT) Training program. She is the former Senior Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute and former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. For more information see www.bgracebullock.com.
Choi MD, Marks C, Landis-Piwowar, K & Payter C (2017). The effects of Vinyasa Yoga on Cardiovascular and Physical Fitness as well as Psychological Profiles of Well-being. The FASEB Journal, 31 (1), Supplement lb742