This Is Exactly How Yoga Can Boost Your Heart Health
Health & Wellness
Practising some form of yoga on a regular basis can help you reduce both your stress and blood pressure levels.
Leading a sedentary or non-active lifestyle is just one reason people are at higher risk of developing heart disease, which remains the top killer of both men and women in the United States and across the globe. However, the human body is resilient: engaging in regular exercise and creating healthier eating habits can reduce and potentially even reverse your risk.
People who mostly sit all day may find it challenging to find the motivation to jump right into rigorous exercise to meet the American Heart Association's (AHA) recommended 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity each week. That's what makes yoga such a great starting point—it's a form of exercise that allows you to ease gently into a consistent routine of moving your body.
Yoga Can Support Your Heart and Mind
Experts continue to find evidence that supports yoga's ability to boost heart health. There's also something to be said about how transitioning rhythmically from pose to pose positively influences the mind-body connection.
After all, the foundations of yoga lie in breath and mindfulness. The practice itself is a series of intentional movements largely guided by your breath, allowing you to flow seamlessly from one pose to the next. For some, practising yoga helps them bolster their self-confidence, as it helps them develop inner strength, self-awareness and gratitude.
From a physical standpoint, practising yoga regularly may improve your health in the following ways:
- Managing blood pressure levels
- Reducing stress levels
- Improving quality of sleep
Holding poses throughout a yoga practice gets the heart pumping, and research has identified how this practice can be advantageous to your overall cardiovascular health. In fact, one study found that people who regularly practise yoga are more likely to engage in other forms of physical activity and have healthier eating habits—all of which can support your heart health.
Practising Yoga Can Ease Feelings of Stress
Stress can take a major physical toll on our bodies because it releases stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which can narrow your arteries and increase blood pressure. Over time, this constant release of hormones and elevated blood pressure may increase your risk of heart disease. Other factors that contribute to this increase include smoking and overeating.
In general, exercise can help alleviate stress. For example, runners—and those who participate in other moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise—can experience what's called a runner's high. This feel-good sensation is a product of an increased levels of endorphins, aka the chemicals in your brain that boost your mood and aid in reducing pain. But more relaxed exercises like yoga can provide a wealth of mental-health benefits as well.
During a yoga class, the teacher may instruct you to close your eyes and encourage you to be mindful of how you're breathing. Sitting still and being present while taking deep inhales and exhales may allow you to let go of the stress you experienced that day, or the one prior, which can help you feel more at peace.
Don't miss 9 Yoga Poses for a Dose of Stress Relief for additional tips.
Yoga May Help You Lower Your Blood Pressure
The heart can benefit from the combination of stress reduction, meditation and yoga. Another advantage is decreasing hypertension, or high blood pressure.
As mentioned previously, when your body experiences consistent, high levels of stress, it releases stress hormones. Over time, this can cause more blood to be pumped though your heart, which elevates your blood pressure levels. This could potentially narrow your arteries and put you at higher risk of heart disease.
You may have heard of a connection between blood pressure levels and a person's waist circumference, which is another marker for heart disease. According to one 2015 study, middle-aged adults who practised yoga for one year saw significant improvements in their blood pressure levels and waist size.
In short, a handful of studies have concluded that yoga can help decrease systolic and diastolic blood pressure—the numbers at the top and bottom of a blood pressure reading.
It May Also Help You Manage Heart Palpitations
Yoga may also help those who experience abnormal heart rhythm, also known as atrial fibrillation or AFib—characterised by rapid and irregular beating that can lead to stroke and other complications.
For example, one study found that practising yoga can create a lower number of episodes of AF, and could even serve as a treatment for those who experience AF conditions.
How to Get Started with a Yoga Practice
There are different types of yoga with a variety of intensity levels. Vinyasa is considered to be a moderate-to-high-intensity form of yoga, as it requires you to move fluidly from one strength-building pose to another.
A less strenuous form is restorative yoga, which focuses more on deep breathing and using props such as blocks or straps to relax. However, meditative forms of yoga should not be overlooked. Stress is a big factor in impacting heart health, so learning how to practise calmness fosters emotional resilience over time.
If you're new to yoga, starting out with a restorative yoga practice may be a smart way to work your way up to a more rigorous class, such as vinyasa. Regardless of the type of yoga, most classes will offer a healthy mix of breathing, meditation and postures.
Bottom line: Yoga can help you build strength and get into the habit of moving regularly while being mindful of your stress levels, both of which can help you keep your heart health in check. Need help getting started? Consider downloading the Nike Training Club App for tips!