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Yoga as ‘effective as exercise’ for cutting cardiovascular risk

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There is “promising evidence” that yoga is a potentially effective therapy improving cardiovascular health, according to researchers.  

A review by researchers from the Netherlands and the US has found yoga may provide the same benefits in risk factor reduction as such traditional physical activities as biking or brisk walking.

The findings are based on a systematic review of 37 randomised controlled trials, including 2,768 people.

The finding is “significant”, said the authors, as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in cardiovascular risk reduction.

For example, patients with lower physical tolerance like those with pre-existing cardiac conditions, the elderly, or those with musculoskeletal or joint pain.

“These results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice”

Myriam Hunink

Yoga, an ancient mind-body practice which originated in India and incorporates physical, mental, and spiritual elements, has been shown in several studies to be effective in improving cardiovascular risk factors, with reduction in the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The new meta-analysis was performed, according to its authors, to provide a “realistic pooled estimate of yoga’s effectiveness when measured against exercise and no exercise”.

Results showed that risk factors for cardiovascular disease improved more in those doing yoga than in those doing no exercise and that yoga had an effect on these risks comparable to exercise.

When compared to no exercise, yoga was associated with significant improvement in body mass, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Body mass index was reduced by 0.77 kg/m2, systolic blood pressure reduced by 5.21mmHg and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 0.67mmol/L.

In addition, body weight fell by 2.32kg, diastolic blood pressure by 4.9mmHg, total cholesterol by 18.48mg/dl, and heart rate by 5.27 beats per minute.

However, no improvements were found in fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin.

“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 and health-related quality of life improvements, and possible accessibility to larger segments of the population,” said the authors said in theEuropean Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Senior author Professor Myriam Hunink, from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, added: “These results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.” 

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