An ancient Eastern tradition, yoga is now as American as apple pie. Proponents of the mind-body technique claim it calms your mind and keeps you well. More evidence is now supporting the latter than ever before.
A meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Cardiology suggests yoga reduces 12 risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, heart rate, lipid levels, abdominal obesity and inflammatory markers.
The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit word indicating a joining of the body and mind. For those at risk of developing heart disease, this union may help relieve the everyday stresses that can — over time — contribute to heart disease. The deep breaths that are the foundation of yoga could help to lower blood pressure and calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for producing stress hormones.
“The stress reduction from yoga can help to turn off our fight-or-flight impulse, which in turn further reduces stress,” Elizabeth Kaback, MD, a cardiologist and member of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. “Additionally, gently exercising helps strengthen your muscles and helps them become more resistant to insulin, which is important for controlling blood sugar. “
Yoga can also be great for improving flexibility, strength, balance and posture. But it isn’t a panacea. It won’t cure heart disease.
“The field of studying correlations between yoga and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is still in its infancy,” says Dr. Kaback.
While there is more research needed to solidify the link between yoga and heart health, the practice could be one way to live a healthier lifestyle.
“Anything that exercises your muscles is good for your heart, but studies suggest that yoga can go beyond that by helping to ease stress and may even alleviate some symptoms of depression, ” says Dr. Kaback. “Yoga helps turn on your autonomic nervous system, which will provide you with increased physical, mental and emotional well-being.”
If you are a yoga newbie, remember to start slow and find the type of yoga that works best for you. Find a beginner class that will help you will build your strength, balance and flexibility slowly.
Make sure you have the right gear before you begin. Stretchy, comfortable clothes are important and a yoga mat will keep your feet from slipping while you exercise. Many modified beginner poses also require a foam block or cotton strap.