Is Yoga Good for Cardiovascular Health? New Study Says Yes

Dedicated yoga practitioners often wonder whether their practice is sufficient in itself for maintaining cardiovascular health. A review of multiple studies recently published by the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology offers some of the strongest evidence so far that yoga as a stand-alone practice may indeed be effective therapy for cardiovascular health.

The study reviewed 37 randomized controlled trials on the effects of yoga on cardiovascular health, which combined included a total of 2,768 people. The cumulative evidence across these studies indicated that yoga may be as effective in reducing risk factors for heart disease as traditional physical activities such as biking or brisk walking.

Previous research has shown that regular yoga practice can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The new analysis also found that risk factors improved for those who did yoga, compared to those who did not exercise. Yoga was associated with improvements in body mass and weight, as well as decreased blood pressure and improved cholesterol markers. According to a meta-analysis performed across the studies, body weight in yoga practitioners on average fell by 2.32 kg, total cholesterol by 18.48 mg/dl and heart rate by .27 beats per minute.

Interestingly, when comparing yoga to traditional aerobic exercise, the researchers found no significant difference on risk factor improvement. They concluded that this suggests that the two forms of physical activity may be equally effective for cardiovascular health and possibly share similar underlying mechanisms.

“The mechanism behind the therapeutic effect of yoga for cardiovascular disease is still unclear,” the researcher wrote. “Studies have suggested that yoga may modulate autonomic function and beneficially alter markers of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.”

They also pointed to the effect of yoga on stress reduction, which in turn leads to improvements in neuroendocrine, metabolic and cardio-vagal functions, and related inflammatory responses.

Even while yoga provides the same preventive benefits for cardiovascular health as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking, it is more accessible and acceptable to patients with lower physical tolerance, the researchers conclude. This includes people with pre-existing cardiac conditions, the elderly, or those with musculoskeletal or joint pain.

In addition, yoga may provide other benefits, such as reductions in stress and anxiety and better coping mechanisms distinct from other forms of exercise. Yoga can also be practiced in a variety of settings with no special equipment needed, potentially making it easier for people to engage in some physical activity and stick with it.

Like previous review studies, the researchers point out that the present study is limited by the fact that the number of published randomized control trials on yoga either are small, of short duration, or involve different types of yoga practices of different duration. As a consequence, they warn, it’s too early to draw strong conclusions on the effectiveness of yoga.

“There are several types of yoga out there; we limited our study to focus on types that included movement and could be considered more rigorous, which could partially explain the findings,” researcher Paula Chu, a PhD student in health policy at Harvard University told

Still, the researchers highlight the fact that yoga shows promise as a cost-effective treatment and prevention strategy given its low cost and the overall improvements in quality of life often associated with the practice. The review is one of the first to demonstrate the potential of yoga to have an impact on concrete, physiological outcomes that represent some of the greatest health burdens today, they note.

“Whereas previous reviews have looked at a single or a few risk factors, our review updates the existing literature and encompasses numerous cardiovascular disease and metabolic risk factors that can be used to calculate overall cardiovascular disease risk,” the researchers write. “We believe that these findings have important implications for the acceptance of yoga as an effective therapeutic intervention.”

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