Yoga Gets High Marks for Cardiovascular Benefits

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Add yoga to your list of heart-friendly habits. That’s the conclusion from German researchers who conducted a comprehensive review of several dozen previous studies on the effects of yoga on cardiovascular disease risk factors. After analyzing the data, involving forty-four studies and more than three thousand participants, the researchers identified a broad spectrum of improvements. These included blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, waist circumference, blood lipids, blood sugar, and insulin resistance.

The medical data analyzed included healthy subjects, non-diabetic individuals with high risk, and diabetics. The analysis “revealed evidence for clinically important effects of yoga on most biological cardiovascular risk factors,” the authors concluded, adding that yoga should be considered as a beneficial activity in both the general population and for patients at risk. Furthermore, they said, the yoga effects “were comparable or superior” to those of official guideline-endorsed interventions like exercise and psychological therapy.

 My Viewpoint: This doesn’t surprise me.  I’ve been a yoga enthusiast for decades and always recommended the practice to my patients. There is something very special about yoga, with its unique combination of exercise, controlled breathing, and relaxation. It diffuses stress and depression. Improves flexibility and joint health. And done in a group setting, has a social interaction benefit as well.

 What This Means to You: I had been aware of the blood pressure benefit, but I hadn’t heard about improved insulin resistance. That’s a big deal. The body’s inability to utilize insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, goes by the name of metabolic syndrome, and is a widespread forerunner to diabetes and heart problems.

 My Recommendation: Just do it. It’s a big winner for your mind and body. And it’s fun to do. There are many active yoga teachers. Get a recommendation or ask at your gym. If you are a senior, you may want to read this article about how to start the practice gently and safely.

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