In the quest for weight loss, many people turn to yoga (an age-old mind-body practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation). But while research shows that yoga may offer a number of health benefits (including stress reduction, increased lung capacity, and improved mood), there's little scientific support for the notion that yoga can help you shed pounds. Still, several studies suggest that yoga may be of some benefit when incorporated into a weight-loss program.
Benefits of Yoga for Weight Loss
One of the largest existing studies on yoga and weight, a 2005 report indicates that yoga may help protect against weight gain in middle age. The study involved 15,550 participants (ages 53 to 57), all of whom reported their physical activity over the previous ten years. Study results showed that overweight participants who had practiced yoga for four or more years gained 18.5 fewer pounds in that 10-year period compared to overweight participants who didn't practice yoga.
In a more recent study, published in 2009, researchers found that a 12-week yoga program helped promote weight loss (as well as lessen anxiety) in a small group of children at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. In a 2008 study, meanwhile, investigators determined that six weeks of yoga training boosted respiratory muscle strength and endurance but failed to promote weight loss.
Should You Use Yoga for Weight Loss?
To date, there's insufficient evidence to recommend yoga as a weight-loss strategy. If you're looking to lose weight, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association suggest doing 60 to 90 minutes of moderately intense cardiovascular exercise five days a week and eight to 10 strength-training exercises (with eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise) twice a week. It's also important to remember that weight loss ultimately comes down to consuming fewer calories than you burn, so what you eat plays a significant role in your success as well.
It's important to keep in mind that yoga may boost your health in many other ways and could aid in the management of several conditions (including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and insomnia). If you're interested in using yoga to achieve a particular health goal (including weight loss), talk to your doctor about how to go about creating a yoga routine that's suited to your health needs.
American College of Sports Medicine. "Physical Activity Guidelines".
Benavides S, Caballero J. "Ashtanga yoga for children and adolescents for weight management and psychological well being: an uncontrolled open pilot study." Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2009 15(2):110-4.
Kristal AR, Littman AJ, Benitez D, White E. "Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women." Altern Ther Health Med. 2005 11(4):28-33.
Madanmohan, Mahadevan SK, Balakrishnan S, Gopalakrishnan M, Prakash ES. "Effect of six weeks yoga training on weight loss following step test, respiratory pressures, handgrip strength and handgrip endurance in young healthy subjects." Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2008 52(2):164-70.