Do you worry about the risk for heart disease? Maybe it runs in your family or your doctor has warned you that your blood pressure, cholesterol level, or triglyceride level is too high. If this is the case, you’ll want to do whatever you can to lower your risk.
Researchers from the Netherlands and USA have found that yoga has the same potential to reduce the risk factors of cardiovascular disease as such traditional physical activities as biking or brisk walking. In their study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in 2014, they note, “This finding is significant, as individuals who cannot or prefer not to perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits in [cardiovascular] risk reduction.” When you look at the list of risk factors for heart disease, it’s easy to understand how yoga can help.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease – or cardiovascular disease – is a term that usually refers to damage to the heart or narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels. A person with cardiovascular disease has a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Some of the risk factors for heart disease include:
- High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood
- High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood
- High blood pressure
- A sedentary lifestyle
- A diet high in fatty, fried or salty foods
- Being overweight
- Being under a lot of chronic stress
- Uncontrolled diabetes
What is yoga?
Mind, body, and soul. These are the three things that come to mind when someone asks, what is yoga? In order for us to truly understand the teachings of this practice, we must first learn where this discipline was born.
The practice of yoga originated in ancient India. But back then, it was not known to its originator as “yoga”. The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit term that means union. This discipline was practiced in Hindu philosophical traditions separated into six schools, each with its own individual duty.
One of the schools, called Hatha Yoga, is the yoga that everyone is familiar with today. The conjoining words of Ha, which means sun, and Tha, the moon, translates to the phrase, “the yoga of balance.” The sole purpose of these teachings was to join together the physical, mental, and spiritual challenges of everyday life, through peace and gentleness. They have combined physical postures which were referred to as “asanas”, steady breathing, and calming the mind through relaxation and meditation. Thus you work as one combining the three, as opposed to the orthodox concept that all of these attributes are separate from one another.
As you become more conscious of this belief, you realize that everything you do is connected – from the food you eat, to how many hours you give yourself to sleep, to how much exercise you do. Our activities in life must balance and complement each other in such a way that caring for ourselves holistically – mind, body, and soul – becomes second nature, or as easy as breathing.
For instance, the saying, “you are what you eat” has never been so true. Practicing yoga alone will not bring drastic changes if you do not incorporate this same discipline in your eating habits. The two must intertwine for you to get the best results.
Five ways yoga can help reduce heart disease risk
1. Yoga reduces stress. People all over the world practice yoga for stress relief. Yoga reduces stress by relaxing the body, improving breathing, and helping blood flow more efficiently.
2. Yoga can help lower blood pressure. Stress raises blood pressure, one of the risk factors for heart disease. Since yoga helps lower stress, a regular yoga practice is ideal for people who are at risk for heart disease because of high blood pressure.
3. Yoga can help you lose weight. Being active reduces the risk for heart disease in a number of ways. It can lower levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides, and if you are overweight, being active will help you lose weight. You can get this benefit from your yoga practice if you practice more vigorous forms such as power yoga or vinyasa flow yoga along with gentle and restorative classes for stress relief. Check out our article, Top 5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Lose Weight.
4. Yoga gives you an overall healthy mindset. Most people who practice yoga begin to take better care of their health in general. That means you are likely to improve your diet in ways that help lower the risk of heart disease. It also means you’ll be less likely to smoke, which is one of the top risk factors for heart disease.
5. Yoga lowers blood sugar. If you have diabetes, you are at a higher risk for heart disease. In fact heart disease is the number one complication of uncontrolled diabetes. An active yoga practice will help reduce blood sugar, which will lower your risk of heart disease. Check out our article, Improve Your Blood Sugar with Yoga, including 11 recommended poses for improving your blood sugar and diabetes.
When it comes to heart disease, yoga is as effective as any form of exercise in helping to reduce the risk, but it has the added benefit of being good for your mind and spirit as well as your physical health. This means that yoga gives you more tools for dealing with all of the risk factors for heart disease, and it will improve your life in other ways as well.
Yoga Journal, Yoga 101: A Beginner's Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras, https://www.yogajournal.com/meditation/yoga-questions-answered