According to a review of yoga and cardiovascular disease published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, yoga may help lower your heart disease risk as much as conventional exercise, such as walking.
The studies in the review looked at different types of yoga, including both mild and more strenuous forms. The participants ranged in age and heart health from young, healthy individuals to older people with health conditions. Over all, those people who took yoga classes saw improvements in a number of factors that affect heart disease risk. They lost an average of five pounds, took five points off their blood pressure, and lowered their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by 12 points.
So, how does yoga, something typically viewed as calm and serene, help reduce your risk of heart disease as much as brisk walking? Researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest it is because yoga incorporates physical activity, breathing and meditation, all of which positively affect cardiovascular risk factors. It only makes sense that combining them would increase the chances of having that impact.
Performing a variety of yoga positions stretches and exercises muscles. This helps them become more sensitive to insulin, which is important for controlling blood sugar. Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure. Mind-calming meditation, another key part of yoga, quiets the nervous system and reduces stress. All of these improvements may help prevent heart disease, and can definitely benefit people with existing cardiovascular issues. Because yoga is less strenuous than many other types of exercise and easy to modify, it can be a perfect opportunity for people who might otherwise avoid exercise.
If you’re interested in starting a yoga routine, it can be daunting. Follow these tips for success:
- Manage Expectations – If you think you’re too old or not flexible enough for yoga, you’re wrong. Yoga is a process, not a pose. Whether or not you touch your toes is irrelevant – what matters at the end of a practice is the state of your body, mind, and emotions. If you feel at peace and are able to pay attention to your breath for one more second than usual, then you are practicing yoga.
- Use an Instructor – Whether you’re popping in a DVD for beginners or have found a local class, it is best to begin with some instruction. Practicing yoga under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher who can lead you through the correct sequences and alignment is important for beginners. Doing so will help you properly learn different postures and avoid possible injuries. Ideally, find a teacher you enjoy and practice with them consistently, as you will be able to progress more steadily with the help of a trusted guide.
- Set Your Alarm – Yoga is ideally practiced in the early morning when your mind is most clear and the world is quiet. Starting your day with yoga allows you to avoid distraction. You are also less likely to skip your workout by pushing it off until later until you no longer have the motivation to follow through.