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Yoga for Heart Health

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

To boost your heart health and protect against cardiovascular disease, consider taking up yoga. A number of studies show that yoga (a mind-body practice that combines physical postures, deep breathing, and meditation) may offer a number of cardiovascular benefits. Although it's not known how yoga might enhance heart health, it has been found to ease stress, a key risk factor for heart disease.

Benefits of Yoga for Heart Health

For a 2005 report in The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, scientists analyzed 70 previously published studies and found that yoga may reduce many cardiovascular risk factors (including insulin resistance and high blood pressure) and aid in the management of heart disease.

Some studies indicate that yoga may guard against age-related changes to heart health. For instance, a 2003 study from the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that a group of 50 middle-aged study subjects who had practiced yoga regularly for five years were less likely to develop high blood pressure (compared to a group of 50 middle-aged participants who did not practice yoga).

And in a 2010 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, yoga was found to fight inflammation (another risk factor for heart disease). In their analysis of blood samples taken from 50 female participants (average age: 41), the study's authors determined that yoga novices had significantly higher levels of interleukin-6 (a marker of inflammation) compared to those who had practiced yoga regularly for at least two years.

Other research suggests that yoga may boost heart disease defense among people with diabetes. In a 2004 study from The Journal of the Association of Physicians of India, for example, participation in a 40-day yoga program appeared to improve blood pressure and blood sugar control among 24 middle-aged type 2 diabetes patients.

Using Yoga to Fight Heart Disease?

Although yoga may offer some cardiovascular benefits, it's crucial not to rely solely on yoga in prevention or management of heart disease. In addition to following a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing your stress, and maintaining a healthy weight, you should work to control or eliminate heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, inflammation, and smoking. If you're interested in using yoga to help manage heart disease, talk to your doctor about how to safely incorporate yoga into your self-care.

Sources

Bharshankar JR, Bharshankar RN, Deshpande VN, Kaore SB, Gosavi GB. "Effect of yoga on cardiovascular system in subjects above 40 years." Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2003 Apr;47(2):202-6.

Innes KE, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG. "Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: a systematic review." J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005 Nov-Dec;18(6):491-519.

Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Christian L, Preston H, Houts CR, Malarkey WB, Emery CF, Glaser R. "Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice." Psychosom Med. 2010 Feb;72(2):113-21.

Singh S, Malhotra V, Singh KP, Madhu SV, Tandon OP. "Role of yoga in modifying certain cardiovascular functions in type 2 diabetic patients." J Assoc Physicians India. 2004 Mar;52:203-6.

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