Study: Yoga Facilitates Midlife Weight Loss

Study indicates that regular practice of yoga, as little as 30 minutes a week, helps prevent middle age weight-gain

While initially thought to be a tool for relaxing and harmonizing the mind and body, increasing flexibility and toning your muscles, the proven health iconbenefits of yoga continue to grow as research proliferates. Enter yoga for weight loss.

A 2005 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine showed that over a ten-year period, overweight middle-aged men and women who practiced yoga lost 5 pounds, while those who did not practice yoga gained nearly 14 pounds. While 5 pounds may not seem like a bundle, it’s actually a 19 pound weight difference compared to the “normal” middle age weight gain.

Conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the study involved 15,500 middle-aged men and women, who were given a written survey about their physical activity, including yoga, and weight history, from age 45 to 55. The impact of yoga on weight change was carefully isolated from other factors, including diet and additional exercise, and then analyzed.

While the study showed the most dramatic effects in overweight practitioners with a 19 pound weight variation, it also found that individuals with average weight gained three pounds less in a ten-year period than those who did not practice yoga at all.
“Considering that people gain about a pound a year during this time, this is pretty substantial,” said Alan R. Kristal, the study’s lead author, who is associate head of the Cancer Prevention Research Program at the Hutchinson Center, and professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.

So how exactly might yoga help people lose weight? Kristal speculates that yoga doesn’t lead to weight loss in the traditional way: through burning calories.

“During a very vigorous yoga practice you can burn enough calories to lose weight,” says Kristal, a long time yoga student himself. “However, most people don’t practice that kind of yoga. From my experience, I think it has to do with the way that yoga makes you more aware of your body. So when you’ve eaten enough food, you’re sensitive to the feeling of being full.”

In short, yoga might curb the tendency to overeat, often a primary cause of weight gain. Further, yoga’s stress reducing effects may also assist in weight loss. Says Dr. Janine Blackman, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine to HealthDay News. “Middle age is a full time in life. A better response to this stress can lower cortisol and other stress hormones, which helps physiologically. If cortisol is elevated, you’re more likely to have insulin resistance, which is central to obesity.”

Whatever the reasons may be, this first research on yoga’s effects on weight loss is encouraging. About two thirds of the population in the US is overweight and almost one third obese, a staggering number given the known health risks of being overweight.

“Even the best dietary and behavioral approaches to weight loss are not all that effective,” says Kristal. “Yoga is a noncompetitive activity. It’s something that everybody can do. It brings so many benefits, and if one of the clinical benefits is that it can help you control your weight, then that’s a great thing.”

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