Yoga: The Secret Heart Health Weapon

Yet another reason to get your "Om" on: Yoga may be as beneficial as cardio for reducing your risk of heart disease.

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

If you’ve bypassed a yoga session in favor of cardio, you may want to read this: Yoga may provide the same benefits as biking or brisk walking when it comes to reducing your heart disease risk, according to a scientific review published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

After analyzing 37 randomized control trials, researchers concluded that yoga is beneficial in managing and improving the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

This meta-analysis measured yoga’s effectiveness on these risk factors compared to exercise and no exercise. When compared to no exercise, yoga reduced body mass index (BMI) by .77kg, body weight by 2.32 kg, systolic blood pressure by 5.21 mm Hg, diastolic blood pressure by 4.9 mm Hg and heart rate by 5.27 beats/min. When it came to the all-important cholesterol readings, a significant decrease occurred in total cholesterol by 18.48 mg/dl and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 12.14 mg/dl, while increases HDL (good) cholesterol by 3.20 mg/dl were seen.

When compared to aerobic exercise, researchers found the two active modalities on par with one another. The similarity of yoga and exercise’s effect on cardiovascular risk factors, say the investigators, “suggest that there could be comparable working mechanisms, with some possible physiological aerobic benefits occurring with yoga practice, and some stress-reducing, relaxation effect occurring with aerobic exercise.”

While yoga is racking up the good-for-health karma, it remains physiologically unclear how it is able to provide these cardiovascular benefits. We’ll have to just wait and see what is uncovered in the future. Until then, get your yoga flow on.