Research finds ease and low cost mean ancient Indian practice could become useful tool in reducing heart-related illness
Yoga could be as effective as cycling or brisk walks in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, new research suggests.
The ancient Indian practice is a potentially effective therapy for making it less likely that people will develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) and should be promoted for that purpose, experts say.
The research, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, finds that the ease and low cost of doing yoga mean it could become a useful tool in reducing heart-related illness, which kills 160,000 people a year in the UK – about one in four of all deaths.
The study is a meta-analysis of 37 previous randomised control trials, involving 2,768 people, into whether yoga can be beneficial for heart health. All but two of those studies found that those practising yoga benefited measurably compared with those who did not exercise.
“This review helps strengthen the evidence base for yoga as a potentially effective therapy for cardiovascular and metabolic health,” say the authors, who are from the Netherlands and the US.
“Yoga may provide the same benefits in risk-factor reduction as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking.”
The researchers, who were led by Prof Myriam Hunink of Erasmus University medical centre in Rotterdam and Harvard school of public health in Boston, add: “This finding is significant as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in CVD risk reduction.”
That could see it being used by groups such as the elderly or those with musculoskeletal or joint problems.
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When those who did yoga were compared to those who took no exercise, the former were found to enjoy significant improvement in their body mass index, systolic blood pressure and levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), as well as higher levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol).
“We believe these findings have important implications for the acceptance of yoga as an effective therapeutic intervention. This review demonstrates the potential of yoga to have an impact on concrete, physiological outcomes that represent some of the greatest health burdens today”, the paper says.
But it is still unclear how much yoga someone has to do to get the benefits found and how cost-effective it is relative to undertaking other forms of exercise or taking drugs. And although the evidence of yoga’s role in reducing the risk of seizures is growing, there is as yet no physiological explanation of why it appears to confer such benefits, Hunink adds.
The British Heart Foundation, said the findings showed yoga producing real benefits and that any form of physical activity that reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease should be encouraged.
“This study’s findings are promising, showing real improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” said Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse with the charity.
“The benefits could be due to working the muscles and breathing, which can bring more oxygen into the body, leading to lower blood pressure.”