Yoga May Cut Heart Disease Risk

Yoga may reduce heart disease risk as effectively as aerobic exercise like biking or brisk walking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Want to reduce your heart disease risk? Some sun salutations or warrior poses might help.

A new study found that people who performed yoga exercises showed improvement in heart disease risk factors like weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Yoga appeared to be as good for heart health as aerobic exercise like biking or brisk walking.

"There are many different yoga disciplines that vary from slow moving and restorative to a faster paced type of yoga," said Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT, of Revive Physical Therapy and Wellness in Edison, New Jersey.

"Power yoga, for example, is more demanding on the body with a quickened pace through the sequences, and can be considered an aerobic workout," Shiao told dailyRx News. "Yoga has been shown to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, reduce depression, and improve overall health just as your conventional exercises like walking and running have been proven to do."

Myriam Hunink, MD, PhD, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, led this study. Dr. Hunink said in a press release that, although the evidence of yoga's beneficial effects on heart health is growing, an explanation for this effect remains unclear.

"Also unclear are the dose-response relationship and the relative costs and benefits of yoga when compared to exercise or medication," she added. "However, these results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice."

Dr. Hunink and team reviewed 32 past studies on yoga's health effects. They studied a total of 2,768 people. Forty-seven percent were men and 53 percent were women.

Yoga originated in India and has been used for thousands of years. Yoga practitioners perform a series of poses in which the goals are control and graceful movement from one pose to another. They also control their breathing and use meditation to still the mind.

Dr. Hunink and team noted that yoga requires little or no equipment. Yoga may be easier for the elderly or those who already have heart disease or musculoskeletal problems than other, more intense types of exercise.

Yoga was much more effective in reducing heart disease risk factors than no exercise. Patients reduced their body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure and lost weight when they practiced yoga. They also showed changes in cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) dropped an average of 12.13 milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml). High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, or "good" cholesterol) rose an average of 3.2 mg/ml. Total cholesterol dropped an average of 18.48 mg/ml.

Dr. Hunink and colleagues found that yoga was even more effective in reducing heart risk factors when used in addition to medication that lowered cholesterol.

Yoga did not appear to have an effect on risk factors for diabetes, such as fasting blood sugar. Diabetes can increase heart disease risk. People with diabetes don't produce enough insulin or their bodies don’t respond to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

When compared to aerobic exercise, yoga was equally effective in reducing heart disease risk factors, Dr. Hunink and team found.

These researchers said yoga’s relaxing effects might reduce stress, which could affect some heart disease risk factors like blood pressure.

“Yoga has the potential to be a cost-effective treatment and prevention strategy given its low cost, lack of expensive equipment or technology, potential greater adherence, health-related quality of life improvements, and possible accessibility to larger segments of the population,” Dr. Hunink and colleagues wrote.

This study was published Dec. 16 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 16, 2014
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015