To add to the growing body of evidence that yoga works wonders for one's overall health, a new review found that the ancient Chinese practice could be more beneficial to our cardiovascular system than scientists once believed.
The review of 37 clinical trials showed that people randomly assigned to take yoga class had reduced heart disease risk factors, exhibiting improvements in their blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. More specifically, yoga practitioners saw higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol and reduced low-density lipoprotein, bad cholesterol.
Lead researcher Paula Chu, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University's Health Policy Program in Boston, even compared yoga to aerobic exercises.
"We believe there is promising evidence on the effect of yoga on improving cardiovascular risk factors," Chu told Health Day. "This finding suggests that [people] who are physically limited in some way do not have to 'pound the pavement' in order to improve their cardiovascular risk profile."
There are three main aspects in yoga: gentle movements and postures, meditation and breathing techniques. Researchers speculate that the movements and yoga poses may stimulate the muscles to process blood sugar, qualifying as a light form of aerobic fitness, depending on how strenuous the yoga is.
Yet the breathing and meditation parts seem to take center stage in terms of health benefits, as they shut off the stress responders that are constantly on throughout the day. The key, though, is that yoga changes the way your body reacts to stress, not just while you're on the mat, but potentially throughout the entire day. In addition, the soothing sequences of breathing techniques improve respiratory function and heart rate while boosting circulation.
By doing all of this, you can kick?-start metabolism and lower inflammation. Calming the body and mind just got easier.
The researchers point out that you shouldn't replace medication or daily fitness with yoga, rather, it should be used as a quality supplement.
What's more, there are many variations of yoga. Those who are just starting the practice may want to opt for a less aggressive, easy tutorial lesson first.
"Of course," Chu told Health Day, "not all types of yoga are suitable for every population. Individuals may want to consult their doctor before embarking on an exercise plan, or talk to a professional about the right style of yoga for them."
Have you noticed a change in your health or stress levels since you started practicing yoga?