It turns out that the peaceful and gentle activity of yoga is as good for the heart as cycling. An analysis of dozens of studies into the impact of the ancient Eastern art concluded it has numerous health benefits.
According to Harvard’s research, yoga leads to weight loss, lowers bad cholesterol and cuts blood pressure. In fact, the improvements were on a par with those seen in people who did conventional exercise such as cycling and brisk walking. In some cases, it worked even better than prescription pills. If that wasn’t enough, regular yoga sessions may even make it easier to quit smoking.
The researchers aren’t sure why yoga is so effective but say the combination of exercise and stress relief may be key. The finding is important because it suggests that those who are too old or unwell to do conventional exercise could practise yoga to keep their heart healthy.
Coronary heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer, with more than 70,000 lives lost a year to heart attacks and other cardiac problems. Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight and not exercising are some of the main risk factors.
The researchers analysed 37 studies into the health benefits of yoga, which involved more than 2,700 people. They found yoga clearly improved health. Men and women prescribed yoga as part of a study lost 5lb more than those who did no extra exercise. Those doing yoga for an average of three months also saw their blood pressure fall and levels of bad cholesterol drop, the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reports.
Some of the studies even showed yoga to be more effective than prescription medicines. In one trial involving those at risk of heart problems, blood pressure dropped almost three times as much when doing yoga compared to when taking pills.
Yoga also helped patients who already had heart disease and were being treated for it. But the most exciting findings revolve around exercise.
The analysis concluded yoga was as good as conventional physical activity in improving heart health. Researcher Myriam Hunink, of Erasmus University in the Netherlands and Harvard University in the US, said: ‘Yoga may provide the same benefits in risk factor reduction as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking.
‘This study’s findings are promising, showing some improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
By Shin Ji-hye