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The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends doing regular aerobic exercise of moderate intensity on most days of the week to promote overall health. In addition, experts also advise doing some muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week for additional health benefits. For people who are overweight or obese, with high blood cholesterol levels or elevated blood pressure, heart specialists suggest doing about 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercises three or four times a week to promote heart health.
These standards may not be too easy for most people to follow, especially for those who are busy with work, those who have been living a sedentary lifestyle, or those who have some health condition that limits their ability to be physically active. The good news is that several studies show that intense physical training or long periods of exercise are not the only ways one can take care of their heart. These studies reveal some "promising evidence" that the mind-body technique popularly known as yoga is also beneficial in managing heart health and improving many risk factors associated with heart disease. In fact, authors agree that yoga is a potentially effective treatment for cardiovascular conditions.
The Benefits Of Yoga
Ancient Indian tradition teaches us that yoga practice is based on the belief that the body is one with the mind. It combines physical exercise (through postures) with proper breathing and meditation. Therefore, it does not only improve physical health by promoting strength, stability and flexibility, but also reduces stress and calms the spirit.
The beauty of yoga lies in the fact that it can be done anytime, anywhere, by almost anyone. Even seniors and people with limited physical capability can practice some form of yoga and benefit from it. One can do simple to more challenging postures while standing, sitting, lying down, or on a headstand position. However, health experts do not count yoga exercises towards fulfilling physical activity requirements, which consist of moderate intensity aerobic activity (150 minutes of per week).
A review of several European and American studies, however, show that compared to no exercise, yoga is an effective, low-cost prevention strategy against cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, the review also found that its benefits are comparable to exercise in preventing or reversing heart disease.
The researchers who reviewed 37 randomized controlled trials that included almost 3000 participants also found that practicing yoga may have the same benefits in reducing risk factors to heart disease as conventional exercises such as brisk walking or biking. They believe this is a significant finding, especially for individuals who cannot or prefer not to do the more strenuous aerobic exercises for health.
The meta-analysis found that compared to no exercise, practicing yoga was associated with improvements in:
- Body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat
- Systolic blood pressure
- Bad (LDL) cholesterol levels
- Good (HDL) cholesterol levels
- Total cholesterol
- Heart rate
Participants who practiced yoga in addition to taking medications for cardiovascular disease also experienced a significant improvement in their risk factors. However, the scientists found no difference in benefits in terms of lowering blood sugar levels, a risk factor involved in diabetes.