Don’t Sweat It! The Health Benefits of Yoga

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Don’t Sweat It! The Health Benefits of Yoga

Prevailing wisdom says you need to sweat in order to make exercise work for you. And while that may have a ring of truth to it, if you don’t love to feel the burn, we’ve got great news.

An interesting study found that yoga was comparable to running, brisk walking, resistance training and other conventional exercise, when it comes to keeping your heart healthy.

For this systemic review, published in the February 2016 issue of European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Harvard researchers and colleagues looked at 37 randomized controlled studies (the gold standard of research study design). Most of the studies lasted 12 weeks with yoga sessions ranging from as little as one session per week up to 7 sessions per week.

The researchers found that, compared to non-exercisers, those who practiced yoga significantly reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease.1 

On average, the subjects who exercised:

  • Lowered their total cholesterol by 18 points
  • Lowered their LDL (the bad cholesterol) by 12 points
  • Raised their HDL (the good cholesterol) by 3 points
  • Lowered their diastolic blood pressure by 5 points
  • Lowered their triglycerides by 26 points
  • They also lost an average of 5 pounds and reduced their heart rate by 5 beats per minute.

If it seems almost too good to be true, it isn’t. Yoga postures involve deep breathing and can put you into a meditative state, which can help lower stress and blood pressure. And because yoga puts less stress on joints and less strain on the body, it’s a great choice for those who otherwise may avoid getting sweaty.

In fact, in another study, the same researchers reported that yoga is one of the most effective lifestyle modifications you can make to reduce your 10-year risk of heart disease – more effective than following a Mediterranean diet or walking. Only smoking cessation for those who smoke came close to yoga.2

Of course, it all adds up to a healthier heart: diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and now yoga.

Say om to your health

If you’ve never done yoga before, try one of the gentler forms, such as hatha, restorative, and Iyengar.

Below are two yoga poses that can help get the blood circulating, bring oxygen to the muscles, and calm your mind and relax your body.

Always remember when doing yoga, breathe evenly throughout the pose and never hold anything longer than what feels comfortable. As you get stronger and more flexible, you’ll be able to increase the length and depth of the poses.

Mountain Pose - 4 Steps
Woman Performing the Yoga Mountain Pose Outside

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed on both sides.

Relax your shoulders, open your chest, and feel your hands by your sides.

Breath in deeply and raise your hands overheard, palms facing each other with arms straight.

Reach toward the sky with your fingertips and hold for 4-8 breaths, then come back to the starting position.

Child’s Pose - 5 Steps
Woman Performing the Yoga Child’s Pose Outside

Kneel on the floor, then slowly sit your bottom to your heels.

Exhale as you roll your torso forward, bringing your chest to your thighs and your forehead to the floor in front of your knees.

Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis while lifting the base of your skull away from the back of your neck.

Extend your arms in front of you or on the floor alongside your torso, palms up, whichever feels better.

Breathe through the pose, for as long as is comfortable.

Of course, as with starting any new exercise program, talk to your doctor to get the thumbs up before rolling out your yoga mat.

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1. Chu P, Gotink RA, Yeh GY, Goldie SJ, Hunink MG. The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2016;23(3):291-307. PMID: 25510863.
2. Chu P, Pandya A, Salomon JA, Goldie SJ, Hunink MG. Comparative Effectiveness of Personalized Lifestyle Management Strategies for Cardiovascular Disease Risk
Reduction. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 29;5(3):e002737. PMID: 27025969.