Health Benefits of Yoga

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Yoga has been known for centuries to provide health benefits. These benefits include increased flexibility and mobility, increased body tone and strength, improved posture, improved physical conditioning, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, among others. But did you know that these benefits also extend to weight loss?

Yoga Improves Risk Factors Connected to Weight Gain

In one study of postmenopausal women who were obese with more than 36% body fat, those who participated in a yoga exercise group had significant improvements in body weight, body mass index (BMI), percentage of body fat, waist circumference, and lean body mass as compared with those who participated in no exercise at all.

Those who participated in yoga also had improvements in measures of insulin resistance (often referred to as “pre-diabetes”) and cholesterol.

The reduction in waist circumference is important as well, because where adipose (fat) tissue is located on the body matters. When it comes to the risk of related disorders like Type 2 diabetes, obesity around the waist (known as centripetal obesity) is a much greater risk factor than having fat tissue elsewhere (hips or thighs, for example).

In another study, researchers analyzed data from over 15,000 adults aged 53 to 57 years who were enrolled in the Vitamin and Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study between 2000 and 2002. The study authors found that “regular yoga practice was associated with attenuated weight gain, most strongly among individuals who were overweight.”

Specifically, the researchers found that yoga practice for at least four years was associated with approximately three pounds less weight gain among individuals with a normal BMI, and 18.5 pounds less weight gain among those who were overweight.

Yoga Improves Heart Health

Overweight and obesity are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but studies have found benefits to heart health from the regular practice of yoga.

Studies have shown that regular practitioners of yoga experience a positive effect on their autonomic nervous system (the system that regulates the “fight or flight” response).

This takes the form of lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, less heart rate elevation in response to stress, and decreased release of stress hormones—contributing to a more relaxed state of being overall.

These cardiovascular benefits of yoga have even been shown to extend to the most common cardiac rhythm disorder (also known as an arrhythmia): atrial fibrillation, for which obesity is also a risk factor.

Results from the YOGA My Heart Study, which looked at the influence of yoga on atrial fibrillation, as well as on quality of life, depression, and anxiety, found that yoga training improved not only symptoms of atrial fibrillation, but the actual frequency of monitored atrial fibrillation episodes (known as “arrhythmia burden”). Additionally, the researchers discovered that yoga training decreased heart rate as well as blood pressure, confirming earlier results from other studies.

Sources:

Lee JA, Kim JW, Kim DY. Effects of yoga exercise on serum adiponectin and metabolic syndrome factors in obese postmenopausal women. Menopause 2012;19:296-301.

Kristal AR, Littman AJ, Benitez D, White E. Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women. Altern Ther Health Med 2005;11:28-33.

Lakkireddy D, Atkins D, Pillarisetti J, et al. Effect of yoga on arrhythmia burden, anxiety, depression, and quality of life in paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: the YOGA My Heart Study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013;61:1177-82.

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