As popular as it has become, yoga still doesn't get the respect it deserves. It is a serious exercise regimen and every bit as good for the heart as other forms of exercise, according to a recent analysis.
And because yoga is a lot less boring than riding a stationary bike, it may even be better than typical exercise when it comes to good heart health.
The authors of the analysis looked at 32 randomized controlled trials of how yoga affected risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
First, the researchers reviewed trials comparing people who used yoga as a form of exercise to people who did not exercise. Yoga participants had lower body mass index (BMI), blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) and cholesterol (both LDL and total) and had higher HDL (good) cholesterol.
People who did yoga had lower body mass index (BMI), blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) and cholesterol (both LDL and total) and had higher HDL (good) cholesterol. They also had lower triglycerides.
They also had lower triglycerides and heart rate, and were more likely to lose weight during the trial. In fact, the only outcomes recorded where yoga did not lead to measurable improvements were fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin.
In trials comparing yoga's effects to the impact of other types of aerobic exercise, such as cycling or brisk walking, the results were even simpler: there was no significant difference between yoga and other exercise.
The researchers caution that many of the trials were of rather short duration and had small numbers of participants, so it's possible that the results of larger or longer trials might be different.
Yoga may even have an edge over traditional forms of exercise. It tends to be more acceptable to patients with physical disabilities, including people with joint pain, heart problems and the elderly. It also requires no special equipment and can be performed either alone at home or as a part of a class.
Add in that yoga is a lot less boring than a regimen of sit-ups and tummy crunches, and you're left with an exercise that you're more likely to keep doing. And the best exercise in the world won't help you if you don't do it.
Despite its growing popularity, yoga still carries a whiff of flakiness or new-age eccentricity for some who aren't familiar with it. This study should help dispel that idea. Plain and simple, yoga is good exercise.
The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.