CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 16 (UPI) -- According to a new study, yoga is good for the heart. Cardiovascular benefits have never been yoga's main draw. Most practitioners herald the exercises' positive effects on joint and muscle health, and as an effective way to relieve stress.
But new research suggests yoga may improve heart health just as much as conventional exercise, like a walk or bike ride.
The study, published in a recent issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, featured a survey of several different types of yoga and their effects on heart health. While yoga isn't ideal training for boosting the cardiovascular stamina necessary for a long-distance running, the survey showed the exercise routines capable of helping yoga-posers lose weight, lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol -- all factors linked to the risk of heart disease.
"Yoga is unique because it incorporates physical activity, breathing, and meditation," study co-author Dr. Gloria Yeh, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, recently told the Harvard Health Blog.
Yeh says the stretching and exercising of muscles helps the body better process glucose and regulate insulin spikes, which is important in defending against cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the meditation and breathing components have been shown to relieve tension and anxiety, lessening stress on the cardiovascular and circulatory systems.
Of course, while yoga is helpful on its own, its full benefits are more likely to be appreciated in combination with other forms of cardio-centric exercise -- jogging, biking, swimming.
Christie Kuo, a nurse at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Harvard Health Blog that she often has her rehab patients end exercise routines with several yoga poses.
"Paying attention to your breathing is important during the strength-training part of rehab," Kuo said. "And the mindfulness and greater awareness from the meditation can help you cope with the stress of your illness, eat more healthfully, and sleep more soundly, all of which help your recovery."