Posted on May 06, 2019, 7 p.m.
Yoga may help you to embrace a healthier lifestyle while helping to boost fitness and ease your stress levels.
When most think of yoga they just think of it helping to promote flexibility and balance, but this ancient tradition does much more as it includes breathing exercises, mediation, and relaxation which can lead to measurable improvements in factors connected with cardiovascular health including better sleep, lowered blood pressure, and less inflammation.
Active forms of yoga such as Vinyasa are listed as moderate intensity exercises in the federal exercise guidelines, but even less active forms boost muscle strength, balance, and flexibility which are often overlooked in other forms of exercise, but are vital to overall fitness and well being. The practice helps to promote deep slow breathing, which research suggests can help to lower blood pressure by and average of 5 points after just a few months or regular practice.
Yoga can help to build up emotional resilience to help you to stay calmer during times of stress due to its relaxing and meditative aspects. Stress is in our lives every day, this can activate our fight or flight responses, in turn this then triggers a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and release of stress hormones which are hard on the cardiovascular system. Yoga will help to activate the opposite rest and digest response which over time will help you to be less reactive to stress and intense emotions. A single 90 minute yoga session has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
A National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health survey found more than 80% of yoga enthusiasts to report the practice decreased their stress levels; nearly two thirds reported yoga helped to motivate them to exercise more regularly; and 4 in 10 said they were also inspired to eat healthier. All of these lifestyle changes may reflect the heightened mind-body self awareness that yoga enthusiast experience, additionally these simple healthier lifestyle changes are some of the most important things than one can do to help prevent heart disease.
"There are four distinct but interconnected areas in which yoga has specific benefits, not just for heart disease but any disease...You're more aware of the positive feelings you enjoy when you eat healthy foods and exercise. You're also more likely to notice the negative effects of eating junk food and sitting on a couch all day...have a different perspective on the meaning and purpose of their life, and their goals become less materialistic and more spiritual and charitable," says Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa of Harvard Medical School.
Enthusiasts find the practice helps to transform their lives in many ways other than physical health, to add to this benefit research has found some people with a higher sense of purpose are less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or related cardiovascular problem.
There is good evidence of a healthy lifestyle including yoga as one of its four key components complimenting loving and supportive relationships, diet, and exercise can actually shrink blockages in arteries without the use of medications; as such the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program has become so widely accepted that Medicare even reimburses participants.
For those wanting to seek out benefits of yoga it is best to start out with gentler beginner classes, especially for those aged 65+. For best results it is recommended to look for classes featuring all four pillars of yoga: breathing practices, postures, meditation, and deep relaxation. Outside of dedicated yoga studios many health clubs and community centers now offer yoga classes.
Yoga may look easy and simple, but it is not, it may take some time and persistence to find a style of yoga and a teacher that resonates for you. Think of it like searching to buy a car or house, you don’t just settle for the first one, you keep searching for the one you like best, and in the case of yoga it typically does not take long.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.