I’ve written a couple of times about yoga’s health benefits, but I just had to share a brand new study which convincingly shows some great news — yoga may help reduce heart disease as much as moderate exercise! Yes I know, it’s a bit hard to believe, as we always hear that you need moderate exercise — getting out of breath — to prevent heart disease, and most yoga classes don’t provide this cardiac burst. But this review and meta-analysis (published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology) reviewed 37 well designed studies called randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Most of these studies compared yoga (usually asana-yoga) to a non-yoga control group, or an exercise control group. In their results, those in the yoga group had significantly lower body mass index, weight, and blood pressure, and improved cholesterol numbers. They also found that the improvements from yoga were essentially equal to improvements from exercise. Even better, many of these studies were performed on people who already had medical issues such as heart disease or diabetes, and the improvements were the same.
There wasn’t an improvement in diabetes numbers such as lower HbA1c, but actually the diabetic patients seemed to get the most benefit in reduction of blood pressure and some other important markers. That’s great news for diabetics who usually are overweight and don’t exercise much, if at all. All of the study’s lab tests are very important biomarkers and risk factors for heart disease, which is the world’s #1 killer. So anything free, fun and non-prescription to help all of us prevent heart disease is a wonderful thing. Yoga definitely fits the bill.
These conclusions are still preliminary, and even the authors say that their findings “are limited by small trial sample sizes, heterogeneity, and moderate quality of RCTs.” But for the great percentage of my clinic patients who are overweight and don’t do any exercise, with many of these above metabolic risk factors, starting yoga is a lot better than continuing to do no exercise.
And this study certainly begs more studies to answer the most obvious, most fascinating question: just how could yoga help our bodies in this way? Does something about yoga’s stress reduction help our immune system in a more profound way even more than cardiac exercise? Stay tuned…
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