Yoga could be as effective at combating heart disease as traditional aerobic exercise, say scientists – but they have no idea why.
Dismissed by some as hardly being exercise at all, yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India and incorporates physical, mental and spiritual elements.
But a team of investigators have revealed that yoga “may provide the same benefits in [heart disease] risk factor reduction as biking or brisk walking”, as well as helping cut down on weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels when compared to those who do no exercise at all.
A group of scientists from the US and the Netherlands carried out a comprehensive “meta-study” of 37 randomised controlled trials – in total covering more than 2,700 test subjects.
The heart disease findings were the most dramatic, with even greater risk factor improvements observed when yoga was combined with medication.
The similarity of yoga and exercise's effect on cardiovascular risk factors, say the investigators, "suggest that there could be comparable working mechanisms, with some possible physiological aerobic benefits occurring with yoga practice, and some stress-reducing, relaxation effect occurring with aerobic exercise".
The study has been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, and senior author Professor Myriam Hunink from Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, and Harvard School of Public Health, Boston said it represented the growing evidence of yoga’s health benefits.
10 best yoga accessories
10 best yoga accessories
1/9 H&M yoga top
This simple vest is form-fitting and flattering, without any bulky seams or zips. The racer-back and elasticated hem will stop the top from moving or riding up during inversions, and the functional, fast-drying fabric will keep you cool. £14.99, hm.com
2/9 Yogamatters Get a Grip towel with Dots
Anyone who has ever slipped their way through a Bikram yoga class will appreciate the merits of a good, grippy towel. The smooth, soft finish on one side and silicon dots on the other mean it can be flipped to suit your practice – dots down as a secure, hygienic barrier on a borrowed mat, or dots up if you feel you need some extra grip. It’s light and absorbent, and rolls up small. £24, yogamatters.com
3/9 Nike pro shorts
Yes, these are SHORT shorts. But their cut and fit will prevent even the slightest chance of wardrobe malfunction. And in a 40-degree class the last thing you’ll be worried about is skimpiness. Available in an array of colours and patterns. £23, nike.com
4/9 Lululemon Om for All Yoga Bag
When lugging your yoga gear from office to class, a ratty rucksack that you stash hurriedly under your desk is not ideal. Lululemon does a range of yoga bags that could easily pass for large handbags. This one is durable and easy to wipe clean, with an external mesh pocket for shoes and several internal pockets. £108, lululemon.co.uk
5/9 Sweaty Betty Carya ¾ Yoga Pants
These harems are airy and comfortable, moving with you as you twist with the help of the deep waistband and elasticated cuffs. They can be infinitely more flattering than even the most ingeniously engineered leggings, and the graphic print keeps them fresh and modern. £60, sweatybetty.com
6/9 Roxy Embrace Bra
This mesh design from the surf brand offers light-medium support, while looking great with its double-layer look in a range of colours. A nice change from the usual scaffolding-style sports bras. £35, roxy-uk.co.uk
7/9 HPE Skinny Compression Leggings
Leggings can be tough to get just right to ensure they’re not restrictive or seethrough. These HPE leggings are subtly stylish, with mesh ankle detail, a comfortable waistband and a hidden internal pocket for essentials. Their compression technology claims to boost circulation, and reduce fatigue and soreness. £70, hpe-shop.com
8/9 LIJA Daydream Draped Jacket
In yoga, the cover-ups are as important as what’s underneath. This is ideal for wrapping up in before settling down for savasana. The two side-zip closures create gathering around the waist, while the moisture wicking lets it breathe. £65, lijastyle.co.uk
9/9 Chilly’s bottles
Bikram or hot-yoga fans will be all too familiar with the need for hydration. These sleek little vacuum flasks keep the water cool on the inside while the outside stays at room temperature – so no icy burn or condensation. £18.99, chillysbottles.com
But she said scientists were yet to come up with a physiological explanation for the practice’s marked impact on cardiovascular wellbeing.
“Also unclear are the dose-response relationship and the relative costs and benefits of yoga when compared to exercise or medication,” she said. “However, these results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.”