Yoga seems to be more popular than ever. If you haven't tried it by now, it's likely you at least know someone who goes to yoga groups or stretches along with an instructor on TV. Because of its prevalence, most people know that yoga is a practice that strengthens and balances the whole body while relieving stress and increasing flexibility, but medical researchers are now looking at the benefits of yoga for heart health as part of the overall well-being this workout can provide.
The relationship between yoga and the heart is a new field of study, and for this reason, we can only speak in terms of likelihood and potential benefits. Even if a more definitive link between yoga and cardiovascular health is established, we must not view it as a magic bullet. Regardless, though, yoga can certainly be a part of a comprehensive plan used to help maintain heart health and deal with heart disease.
How Yoga Helps Your Heart
Yoga is a gentle exercise that keeps you moving and strengthens your muscles, and this fact alone is good for your heart. Additionally, yoga can help people reduce and manage the stress that occurs as a result of a traumatic heart event, such as cardiac arrest or a heart attack.
The American Heart Association links yoga with other significant heart benefits. Not only does regular yoga practice strengthen muscle tone, it also improves circulation, heart rate, and respiratory function. It can even increase lung capacity while lowering blood pressure.
Overall Health and Stress Levels
Regular yoga practice improves overall health by increasing strength and range of motion and improving flexibility and balance. The slow, structured breathing of yoga calms the sympathetic nervous system, which can reduce the production of stress hormones, and constantly moving through poses helps your body manage insulin better. The practice may also help manage pain, depression, and anxiety, further helping to address risk factors for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Yoga's effect on our emotions and stress levels makes the link to better heart health much more apparent. Our understanding of emotional stress as a significant risk factor for heart disease is increasing, and women are particularly at risk. Emotional stress may result in heart disease developing at an earlier age or exacerbate existing heart disease. Therefore, the practice of yoga to reduce stress can be seen as a means of improving heart health.
Is Practicing Yoga for Heart Health Right for You?
Before starting yoga, you should discuss it with your doctor — especially if you have any kind of health condition. If the following situations are relevant to you, discussing yoga with your medical team is of particular importance:
- Blood clots or a risk of blood clots.
- Glaucoma or other eye conditions.
- Herniated disk.
- Uncontrolled blood pressure.
- Extreme balance issues.
- Recovering from a long period of bed rest or immobility, with muscles losing significant strength and tone.
In many of these situations, a good yoga instructor can make adjustments to accommodate the condition in question, but proceed with caution and be sure your physician is aware.
Yoga is a low-impact activity that's easy to modify. This makes it a wonderful form of exercise for people who are out of shape or hesitant or wary of working out. Just remember that you get out of it what you put into it. The more you invest yourself and the more you make it a part of your routine, the more it will be able to improve your quality of life — and the benefits might impact more aspects of your physical health than you think.