New research reveals that the ancient mind-body practice of yoga may provide the same benefits for your heart as traditional types of aerobic exercise, such as biking or brisk walking.

The similarity of yoga and exercise’s effect on cardiovascular risk factors, according to the researchers, “suggest that there could be comparable working mechanisms, with some possible physiological aerobic benefits occurring with yoga practice, and some stress-reducing, relaxation effect occurring with aerobic exercise.”

Yoga, which incorporates physical, mental, and spiritual elements, has been shown in several studies to be effective in improving cardiovascular risk factors, with reduction in the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The findings are published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

For the study, researchers from the U.S. and the Netherlands systematically reviewed 37 randomized controlled trials (involving 2,768 participants). This meta-analysis was conducted, investigators said, to evaluate the evidence of yoga on heart health and to provide a realistic estimate of its effectiveness when measured against exercise and no exercise.

“This finding is significant,” they noted, “as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in [cardiovascular] risk reduction.”
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease dropped in yoga practitioners compared to those who did no exercise. Specifically, yoga was associated with significant improvement in each of the primary outcome risk factors measured:

• lower body mass index;
• lower body weight;
• lower systolic blood pressure;
• lower low-density (bad) lipoprotein cholesterol, and;
• increase in high-density (good) lipoprotein cholesterol.

There were significant risk factor improvements (in BMI, blood pressure, lipid levels) when yoga was used in addition to medication. Among patients with existing coronary heart disease, yoga provided a statistically significant benefit in lowering LDL cholesterol when added to medication (statins and lipid-lowering drugs).
Yoga was found to have similar effects on cardiovascular risk factors as other types of aerobic exercise. The researchers said this might be because of yoga’s impact on stress reduction, “leading to positive impacts on neuroendocrine status, metabolic, and cardio-vagal function.”

Furthermore, referring to yoga’s easy impact on the body, the researchers noted that evidence supports yoga’s acceptability to “patients with lower physical tolerance like those with pre-existing cardiac conditions, the elderly, or those with musculoskeletal or joint pain.”

Thus, they concluded that “yoga has the potential to be a cost-effective treatment and prevention strategy given its low cost, lack of expensive equipment or technology, potential greater adherence and health-related quality of life improvements, and possible accessibility to larger segments of the population.”

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Reference:

1. Chu P, Gotink RA, Yeh GY, Goldie SJ, Hunink MGM. 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 Prevent Cardiol 2014: DOI: 10.1177/2047487314562741.