By Jonathon Stavres PhD, ACSM-EP-C
Yoga is a form of exercise that employs balance, flexibility, and strength in an effort to increase core strength, decrease mental stress, and improve range of motion. This form of exercise is very popular among a range of demographics and can be performed in a studio or at home.
While it may not be surprising that yoga has been shown to improve balance and flexibility, there are some additional benefits of yoga that many people aren’t aware of.
Yoga reduces blood pressure and blood glucose levels
In some studies, participation in yoga has been related to a reduction in secondary cardiovascular disease risk. Datey, Deshmukh, Dalvi, and Vinekar (1969) found that Shavasana (a common technique used in yoga) lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure in 52% of a sample of patients with diagnosed hypertension.
Another study by Murugesan, Govindarajulu, and Bera (2000) found evidence that yoga was equally as effective at reducing blood pressure as drug therapy in a group of 33 hypertensive individuals.
Aside from blood pressure, yoga has been shown to combat metabolic syndrome. Innes, Bourguignon, and Taylor (2005) conducted a systematic review that found evidence supporting the role of yoga in reducing insulin resistance related risk factors. Yoga has also been suggested to improve weight loss, stress, and even lipid profiles (Manchanda & Madan, 2014).
Yoga improves emotional health
Moving beyond the physical health, yoga has been shown to improve emotional health. A meta-analysis of previously published data found evidence that integrated yoga (physical yoga combined with mediation and relaxation) could improve some symptoms of prenatal depression in pregnant mothers (Gong, Ni, Shen, Wu, & Jiang, 2015).
Similarly, there is evidence to suggest that Sahaj and Laughter yoga are both effective methods of treating depression in clinically depressed individuals (Shahidi et al., 2011; Sharma, Das, Mondal, Goswampi, & Gandhi, 2005).
Yoga improves cognitive function
Finally, yoga may help to improve cognitive function. Gothe and McAuley (2015) conducted a systematic review of 22 previously published research articles examining the influence of yoga on cognitive function. When data from all of these studies were combined, the results indicated that participation in yoga was associated with modest improvements in executive function, processing speed, and other measures of cognition.
Practicing yoga requires a person to focus on a specific task while simultaneously clearing (or controlling) their thoughts. While this may sound paradoxical, the ability to clear your mind and focus intently on a single task can sometimes be a significant mental challenge. This may contribute to the suggested benefits of yoga on cognitive function.
In conclusion, yoga is a common and relatively cheap form of exercise that has measurable benefits. Not only can yoga improve your balance and flexibility, but you may also experience improvements in physical, mental, and cognitive health.
*Before starting an exercise or nutrition regimen, consult with your physician and/or healthcare provider and registered dietitian.
**For more examples of other variations/exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
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Datey, K. K., Deshmukh, S. N., Dalvi, C. P., & Vinekar, S. L. (1969). “Shavasan”: A yogic exercise in the management of hypertension. Angiology, 20(6), 325-333. doi: 10.1177/000331976902000602
Gong, H., Ni, C., Shen, X., Wu, T., & Jiang, C. (2015). Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 15, 14. doi: 10.1186/s12888-015-0393-1
Gothe, N. P., & McAuley, E. (2015). Yoga and Cognition: A Meta-Analysis of Chronic and Acute Effects. Psychosom Med, 77(7), 784-797. doi: 10.1097/psy.0000000000000218
Innes, K. E., Bourguignon, C., & Taylor, A. G. (2005). Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: a systematic review. J Am Board Fam Pract, 18(6), 491-519.
Manchanda, S. C., & Madan, K. (2014). Yoga and meditation in cardiovascular disease. Clin Res Cardiol, 103(9), 675-680. doi: 10.1007/s00392-014-0663-9
Murugesan, R., Govindarajulu, N., & Bera, T. K. (2000). Effect of selected yogic practices on the management of hypertension. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, 44(2), 207-210.
Shahidi, M., Mojtahed, A., Modabbernia, A., Mojtahed, M., Shafiabady, A., Delavar, A., & Honari, H. (2011). Laughter yoga versus group exercise program in elderly depressed women: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry, 26(3), 322-327. doi: 10.1002/gps.2545
Sharma, V. K., Das, S., Mondal, S., Goswampi, U., & Gandhi, A. (2005). Effect of Sahaj Yoga on depressive disorders. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, 49(4), 462-468.