Much of the time, the clear battle lines are drawn between those who embrace alternative health practices and those who religiously follow the edicts of conventional (allopathic) medicine. But yoga is one welcome exception. And now a new study suggests it’s good for your heart, but even better for you paired with aerobics.
Individuals with heart disease who practice yoga in addition to aerobic exercise saw twice the improvement in blood pressure, weight and cholesterol compared to those who engaged in one or the other. The study was presented at the 8th Emirates Cardiac Society Congress/American College of Cardiology Middle East Conference in October 2017.
There are various types of yoga, of course. Researchers focused on Indian yoga. The study looked at the impact of yoga and aerobic exercise–in tandem and separately–on coronary risk factors. The subjects were all obese heart disease patients who had type 2 diabetes. There were three groups:
- A group of 225 patients participated only in aerobic exercise
- A group of 240 patients participated only in yoga
- A group of 285 participated in both.
Each group did three, six-month sessions of yoga and/or aerobic exercise.
- The aerobic-only and yoga-only groups showed similar reductions in blood pressure, weight and waist circumference, and they had similar improvements in cholesterol.
- The combined group showed twice the improvement in those areas, plus other significant cardiovascular benefits. Those in the combined group also increased their exercise capacity.
The bottom line? “Combined Indian yoga and aerobic exercise reduce mental, physical and vascular stress and can lead to decreased cardiovascular mortality and morbidity,” the researchers said in a press release announcing their findings. “Heart disease patients could benefit from learning Indian yoga and making it a routine part of daily life.”
Why is yoga alone not enough?
It makes sense that combining the two would be most effective, given that–at least according to the American Heart Association–yoga doesn’t count toward the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. The rationale: Some forms of yoga simply don’t raise the heart rate enough. But as they say, your mileage may vary.
Despite that caveat, the American Heart Association maintains that yoga indeed boosts heart health, and several other studies support that contention.
More evidence of yoga’s heart benefits
The 2017 study adds to a growing body of evidence supporting yoga for heart health. Here are a few examples:
- A 2014 review (which looks at several existing studies at once) published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiologyfound that yoga may lower heart disease risk as much as brisk walking and similar exercises. Those who took yoga classes saw improvements in several areas related to heart health: They lost weight, reduced their blood pressure and lowered their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
- A 2016 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursingfound that people with the irregular heart rhythm–atrial fibrillation–had meaningfully lower blood pressure and heart rates after completing 30 minutes of light yoga weekly for 12 weeks.
- A 2014 review of the literature by the Cochrane Collaboration, found yoga led to improvements in blood pressure, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The degree of improvement depended on how–and how much–one practiced yoga.
- A 2012 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicinefound that 10 weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes “significantly increased previously inactive participants’ adherence to physical activity.” According to the authors, a mind-body exercise program may be an effective tool the fight against physical inactivity.
Correlation or causality?
None of the studies discussed actually prove anything about yoga. They do show an association between its regular practice improved heart health. But could that be due to how healthy yoga practitioners already are?
Given the design of the studies–including the first one, which looked at obese patient with diabetes and heart disease–that’s probably not the whole story.
But consider this: Analysis by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that nearly two-thirds of those who practice yoga reported that, because of yoga, they were inspired to exercise more regularly. Additionally, 40 percent reported they were motivated to eat a more healthful diet. Eighty percent reported stress reduction, which they attribute to their yoga practice. Stress, of course, is a risk factor in various cardiovascular conditions.
Of course, yoga has countless other benefits, including improvement in pain management, providing a sense of community and helping manage depression. (You can read about many of them in our previous blog posts and newsletters.)
Practice yoga regularly and you’ll be healthier–and as a bonus, you’ll make your medical doctor and your naturopath happy.
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