You may think of yoga as the go-to practice to improve flexibility. But the ancient discipline does more than just help to stretch you into a human pretzel. This gentle form of exercise can also benefit the heart.
Heart Healthy Benefits
Yoga combines a series of body poses with breathing exercises and meditation, and each element of the practice is beneficial to cardiovascular health. The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology published a review examining yoga’s positive health effects. The journal analyzed data from 37 studies that involved nearly 2,800 people. Participants included young, healthy yoga practitioners as well as older people with health issues. The review’s findings indicated that regular yoga practice:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces inflammation
- Lowers cholesterol
- Reduces stress
Each of these factors help to minimize the risk of heart disease. Inflammation promotes coronary artery disease, the hardening of the arteries. Inflammation is triggered by high levels of a protein that naturally occurs in the blood. Stress and fatigue cause an increase in this protein. Because yoga reduces stress and improves sleep, routine practice plays an important role in inflammation.
Stress Management Helps the Heart
When we experience stress, the body releases stress hormones that have been shown to elevate cholesterol. The meditation and breathing exercises that are part of yoga help reduce stress, thereby lowering cholesterol. Researchers also believe that yoga’s relaxing effect is what causes blood pressure to lower. Healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels both improve heart health.
Yoga is less strenuous than many other forms of exercise and can be modified to match individual needs. This makes it a good fit for people from all walks of life. The practice can also be implemented as part of a cardiovascular rehabilitation program to help people recovering from heart attacks or heart surgery.