16 Healthy Reasons to Unroll Your Yoga Mat

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16 Healthy Reasons To Unroll Your Yoga Mat

Long revered for its spiritual and mental benefits, yoga is fast becoming equally valued for its benefits in reversing the effects of modern chronic diseases

For more than 5,000 years humans have practiced the ancient Indian art of yoga. Long revered for its spiritual and mental benefits, yoga is fast becoming equally valued for its benefits in reversing the effects of modern chronic diseases.

A study from Harvard University finds that yoga has particular benefits for your heart

In a meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials, researchers concluded that a yoga practice lowers heart disease risks as well as the risks of metabolic syndrome.[i]

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of the following metabolic risk factors - increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels. It greatly increases the chance of cardiovascular problems.[ii]

Compared to people who didn't exercise, yoga practitioners had:

  • lower body mass index and weight
  • lower blood pressure
  • lower LDL cholesterol and higher HDL cholesterol
  • lower triglycerides
  • lower heart rate

The researchers still aren't sure how yoga works its magic in reducing cardiovascular disease. But they noted that yoga helps reduce the effects of stress, leading to positive impacts on the neuroendocrine system, metabolic function, and inflammation. 

In fact, they found that yoga may provide the same benefits in heart risk reduction as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking. That makes yoga a good alternative for people who can't or won't engage in traditional aerobic exercise. 

Yoga means "union" in Sanskrit. It incorporates physical, mental, and spiritual elements. The researchers noted that in the West, the Hatha style of yoga is most commonly practiced. Hatha yoga focuses on stretching and stimulating the spine and muscles in coordination with breath control. 

Besides its heart benefits, yoga has been proven to:

  1. Improve insulin resistance: A 2005 review found improvements in insulin resistance syndrome with yoga.[iii]
  2. Help smokers quit: Twice-weekly Vinyasa-style yoga improved smokers' odds of 7-day and 24-hour abstinence.[iv]
  3. Benefit patients with cardiac heart failure.
  4. Reduce urinary incontinence by 70%.
  5. Reduce chronic lower back pain.[v]
  6. Reduce blood sugar in type 2 diabetics.[vi]
  7. Improve brain function.[vii]
  8. Improve bronchial asthma.[viii]
  9. Relieve carpal tunnel syndrome.
  10. Lower cortisol levels and relieve stress.[ix]
  11. Help fibromyalgia patients.[x]
  12. Improve obsessive-compulsive disorder.[xi]
  13. Improve behavioral skill in children with autism.
  14. Relieve computer eye strain.[xii]
  15. Improve osteoarthritis of the hands.

There are many more. To learn more, visit GreenMedInfo's page on yoga.

Originally published: 2015-02-12

Article Updated: 2019-10-30


[i] Chu P et al, "The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2014. pii: 2047487314562741. [Epub ahead of print]

[ii] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "What is metabolic syndrome?" https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ms/ (2011).

[iii] Innes KE, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG. "Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: A systematic review." J Am Board Fam Pract 2005; 18: 491-519.

[iv] Bock BC, Fava JL, Gaskins R, et al. "Yoga as a complementary treatment for smoking cessation in women." J Womens Health (Larchmt) 2012; 21: 240-248.

[v] Holger Cramer, Romy Lauche, Heidemarie Haller, Gustav Dobos. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain. Clin J Pain. 2012 Dec 14. Epub 2012 Dec 14. 

[vi] S Amita, S Prabhakar, I Manoj, S Harminder, T Pavan. Effect of yoga-nidra on blood glucose level in diabetic patients. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009 Jan-Mar;53(1):97-101. 

[vii] Tenzin Kyizom, Savita Singh, K P Singh, O P Tandon, Rahul Kumar. Effect of pranayama&yoga-asana on cognitive brain functions in type 2 diabetes-P3 event related evoked potential (ERP). Indian J Med Res. 2010 May;131:636-40. 

[viii] R Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. Yoga for bronchial asthma: a controlled study. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1985 Oct 19;291(6502):1077-9. 

[ix] Andreas Michalsen, Paul Grossman, Ayhan Acil, Jost Langhorst, Rainer Lüdtke, Tobias Esch, George B Stefano, Gustav J Dobos. Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program. Med Sci Monit. 2005 Dec;11(12):CR555-561. Epub 2005 Nov 24. PMID: 16319785

[x] James W Carson, Kimberly M Carson, Kim D Jones, Robert M Bennett, Cheryl L Wright, Scott D Mist. A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia. Pain. 2010 Nov;151(2):530-9. PMID: 20946990

[xi] D S Shannahoff-Khalsa, L R Beckett. Clinical case report: efficacy of yogic techniques in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders. Int J Neurosci. 1996 Mar;85(1-2):1-17. 

[xii] Shirley Telles, K V Naveen, Manoj Dash, Rajendra Deginal, N K Manjunath. Effect of yoga on self-rated visual discomfort in computer users. Head Face Med. 2006;2:46. Epub 2006 Dec 3. 

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