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Investigators who reviewed the results of various international studies on yoga also found that in comparison with aerobic exercise, yoga has similar benefits on cardiac risk factors. They noted that this might be due to yoga's impact on stress reduction, which has a positive impact on neuroendocrine metabolic and cardiac function. Their finding suggests that yoga may have similar mechanisms as aerobic exercise in bringing about the health benefits, including its relaxation and stress-reducing effects.
According to Professor Myriam Hunink, the study’s senior author, it is still unclear how yoga exerts its benefits on cardiovascular health, but evidence is growing, showing that the relative costs and benefits of yoga are comparable to exercise and medication. In addition, yoga is acceptable as an alternative treatment, especially to patients who have low tolerance for physical activity, such as the elderly.
Yoga and Heart Health
Although the practice of yoga does not count as aerobic exercise, which one must do at least 150 minutes per week for overall health, experts like M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., founder of Cardiac Yoga believe that yoga can help prevent or even reverse heart disease. When practiced in combination with a healthy lifestyle, traditional yoga can promote physical, emotional and mental well-being. According to Cunningham, a yoga instructor for 40 years, yoga can help:
- improve muscle tone
- boost circulation
- lower blood pressure
- increase lung capacity
- improve respiratory function
- improve heart rate
- increase strength
- reduce stress
One study, involving more than 15,000 participants, showed that practicing yoga can help people shed excess pounds. Aside from burning calories, yoga also promotes mindfulness, which reinforces healthy habits that include proper eating habits.
Healthy individuals may benefit greatly by combining a healthy lifestyle, which consists of a balanced diet and regular exercise, and yoga to achieve physical mental and emotional health. However, for people who cannot engage in moderate or strenuous physical exercise, yoga offers an alternative form of therapy that may still help increase physical strength, flexibility and stability, at the same time promoting respiratory and cardiovascular function.
For people who have experienced a cardiac event such as a heart attack or cardiac arrest, emotional stress may have adverse effects on the heart. Patients who have undergone bypass surgery may also experience depression, anxiety and grief, which are common in people who have chronic disease. In these cases, yoga can help calm these emotions, promote relaxation and improve a patient’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When practiced regularly, yoga can lead to long-term improvement of overall health and functionality.
Cunningham advises patients who are obese, diabetic or suffering from heart disease to consult a doctor before initiating a yoga program and to seek help from a qualified instructor who is trained in cardiac yoga. Patients may contact their local cardiac rehabilitation center for more information on how to practice yoga for cardiac health.