Photo of a man and woman practicing yoga
Yoga, an ancient mind-body practice, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes

Analysis reveals yoga’s benefits for heart health

29 December, 2014

Natural Health News — There is promising evidence that practising yoga is an effective way to manage and improve the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

Yoga, an ancient mind-body practice which originated in India and 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.

In the current study investigators from the Netherlands and the US performed a review of 37 randomised controlled trials (which included 2768 subjects) in order to appraise the evidence and provide a realistic pooled estimate of yoga’s effectiveness when measured against exercise and no exercise.

Results showed that yoga may provide the same benefits in risk factor reduction as such traditional physical activities as biking or brisk walking.

“This finding is significant as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in [cardiovascular] risk reduction.”they note in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Measurable results

Looking at the result in depth, it was found that risk factors for cardiovascular disease improved more in those doing yoga than in those doing no exercise, and second, that yoga had an effect on these risks comparable to exercise.

When compared to no exercise, yoga was associated with significant improvement in risk factors such as body mass index, systolic blood pressure, low-density (bad) lipoprotein cholesterol all of which were reduced and in high-density (good) lipoprotein cholesterol which was higher in yoga practitioners.

Body weight, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, and heart rate were also lower though the researchers found no evidence that yoga improved risk factors for diabetes such as fasting blood glucose.

Improves the effectiveness of medication

Risk factor improvements (in BMI, blood pressure, lipid levels) were significant 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).

In comparisons with exercise itself, yoga was found to have comparable effects on risk factors as aerobic exercise. The investigators note that this might be because of yoga’s impact on stress reduction, “leading to positive impacts on neuroendocrine status, metabolic and cardio-vagal function.”

“Aerobic” benefits and more

The similarity of yoga and exercise’s effect on cardiovascular risk factors, say the investigators, “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.”

Moreover, in view of yoga’s ease of uptake, the investigators also note 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 conclude 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.”