Exercise and heart health series: Yoga

October 5, 2019 Providence Body & Mind Team

Whether you’re curious about starting yoga, or a seasoned yogi, practicing can have many benefits for your heart.

[3 MIN READ]

When you think of yoga, you may not visualize a heart-pounding exercise that has you out of breath. Instead, you might see pictures of serene settings with deep breathing and stretching.

Despite these visuals, yoga is a full-body workout that can benefit your heart. Sure, it may not always be considered an intense cardio workout like CrossFit, but studies show the stress-relieving effects of yoga may be beneficial in lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. And if you’ve ever taken a hot yoga class, you may find that you sweat more than running a few miles!

Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of yoga, and how it can help your heart.

What is yoga?

Although it may be a popular class at your local gym, yoga actually originated in India thousands of years ago as a system for physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. It combines specific poses or stretches with breathing exercises and meditation.

There are several different types of yoga, each with a different goal or focus. Restorative or yin yoga, for example, uses props (like blankets or mats) to help you stretch into poses for long periods of time, which leads to deep relaxation in your muscle tissue. Hot yoga, on the other hand, aims to increase your heart rate with intense stretches that take place in a hot and humid studio. Find the right yoga for you, whether it’s hatha, vinyasa flow, or a combination of different styles.

How does yoga help the heart?

Long-term stress is often associated with an increased risk for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), chronic stress can put your nervous system “in overdrive,” which can cause inflammation in your arteries and lead to high blood pressure. Both of these symptoms can affect how your heart functions and increase your risk for developing heart disease.

The AHA notes that yoga can "put the brakes on the body's stress response," which can reduce the side effects of stress, like high blood pressure, and lower risk for heart disease. 

Yoga can reduce stress by helping you relax with deep breathing exercises and meditation. It also releases toxins that have built up in your body. The AHA notes that yoga can “put the brakes on the body’s stress response,” which can reduce the side effects of stress, like high blood pressure, and lower risk for heart disease. 

Small studies have also shown that yoga may help other risk factors for heart disease. A 2014 study showed that yoga helped decrease cholesterol. And in 2016, another study showed that yoga resulted in better blood pressure and mental health for people who already had heart disease.

So, yoga may be able to reduce your stress levels — great! But what are some other benefits of yoga? Here are a few:

  • Improves mindfulness. Yoga not only helps you relax, it also helps you focus on yourself and your body. Experts argue that mindfulness can motivate you to take more healthy actions, like eating right or exercising more.
  • Offers a low-impact option. Unlike running or team sports, yoga can help you stay active without taking a toll on your joints.
  • Boosts balance and stability. Yoga can help you increase strength, balance and flexibility, which can help prevent falls and lower your risk of injury.

Yoga offers a lot of benefits for your mind and body, but it’s important that you find a class that’s right for you. When searching for a class and instructor to fit your level and goals, keep in mind:  

  • Not every yoga class will work for you. There are many different kinds of yoga and some are more intense than others. Be sure to talk to your doctor about which types of yoga are safe for you, especially if you’ve had a previous injury.
  • Injury and muscle strain can happen. As with any exercise, you can injure yourself and pull muscles when practicing yoga. Remember to take it slow and talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have.

Although it may not be the exercise for everyone, yoga can be a great way to combine stress relief with fitness, both of which will help your heart health.

Find a doctor

If you need more information on starting a yoga practice or another exercise routine, talk with your doctor. You can find a Providence doctor using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Can #yoga and #mindfulness reduce your risk for heart disease? Learn how this popular type of exercise can improve your #heart #health. @psjh 

Resources

Exercise and heart health series: CrossFit

Exercise and heart heath series: Endurance exercise

3 ways to lower blood pressure – beyond diet and exercise

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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