It is a well-known fact that exercise, especial the aerobic kind, has a positive effect on heart health. Heart disease is a major killer, as plaque in the arteries begins to block the natural flow of blood. More than 600,000 in the US die of heart disease, yet it is totally preventable. The major causes are smoking, obesity, a poor diet, and inactivity. A yoga lifestyle usually eliminates all four of these factors to ensure better cardio health.
Many people avoid the word “exercise,” imagining pumping madly in an aerobics class or jogging endlessly around a track. These exercises are certainly beneficial, but they aren’t the only ones that can help us maintain a healthy heart and longer life.
Yoga, with its gentle yet challenging poses, can bring about the benefits of aerobic exercise in an easier way.
There have been numerous studies comparing yoga to no exercise at all and comparison yoga to regular aerobic exercises.
When compared to people who engaged in no physical exercise or exertion, practitioners of yoga showed clear and tremendous improvements in heart health. They lost weight and achieved significantly lower blood pressure. Their cholesterol level also improved.
These results were expected. The surprise came when people practicing yoga were compared to people who engaged in regular aerobics. There were no major differences between the two groups in weight loss, cholesterol level, or blood pressure. The yoga group achieved the same level of benefits as the aerobics group.
A group of independent researchers, the Cochrane Collaboration, confirmed the results, but indicated that the duration per week spent on practicing yoga affects the long-term. People who attend a weekly yoga class will enjoy fewer benefits than those who practice yoga several times a week or on a daily basis.
Many Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that can be caused by high blood pressure, stress, and excess weight. Like regular heart disease, atrial fibrillation, too, can be prevented.
A study at the University of Kansas used a group of 52 patients suffering from atrial fibrillation and had them engage in two weekly yoga sessions for several months. The results of the study found that the participants enjoyed an improve heart rhythm and a lessening of anxiety and blood pressure.
Recent evidence suggests that yoga, when practiced regularly, produces the same heart benefits as traditional aerobic exercises.
Transcendental meditation is a type of yoga meditation we will discuss in a further chapter. A study of the American Heart Association found that transcendental meditation can lower the risk of cardio death in almost half of the patients with heart problems.
Another study at the Medical College of Wisconsin assigned half of a group of patients with high blood pressure to a transcendental meditation group and had the other half taking blood pressure medication. The meditation group practiced 20 minutes a day for up to five years.
The study showed that almost half of the meditation group had a reduction in heart problems when compared to the group of medication.
Further studies are being conducted. But there is clear evidence that yoga has a significant positive impact on heart health.
Yoga and Weight Management
While there are quicker ways to lose weight, yoga can help you shed a few pounds.
Yoga doesn’t burn the same number of calories as aerobic exercise. You’ll burn around 150 calories doing an hour of yoga, which you’ll burn over 300 doing an hour of walking.
But there’s more to weight loss than just burning calories, though yoga does provide a healthy workout. There is another, subtler, influence, however. Yoga increases awareness of our bodies and the food we use to fuel it. If your diet consists of burgers and chips, the enhanced mind/body connection will reinforce the toxicity of certain foods and make you reach for healthier, more life-affirming choices. Toxic food simply becomes less appealing. This means that most people will reach for a salad instead of a burger.
If you want to lose weight on your yoga regime, opt for the more strenuous types of yoga, such as Kundalini Yoga and Yin Yoga.