As you know, I believe in regular exercise. It’s good for your heart, your lungs and even your mood. But I also realize that some people don’t enjoy exercise, and others may be restricted in their ability to exercise.
That’s why I’m a fan of yoga.
Yoga has been practiced in India for more than 5,000 years. In the West, we’re most familiar with Hatha Yoga. This form of yoga involves positions, breathing and meditation. In today’s article, we’ll focus on the “positions” part. And, don’t worry; I’m not suggesting you turn yourself into a human pretzel…
Gently Melt Your Stress Away
Lower stress is one reason for yoga’s popularity. Even if you don’t practice yoga for its meditative aspect, the quiet and focus of the exercises can help lower stress.
There aren’t many pursuits more stressful than studying to become a doctor. That’s why I was so interested in a recent study at Canada’s McGill University. Researchers gave a group of medical students yoga training. After just a few weeks, the students reported lower stress levels. As a bonus, their overall health improved, too.1
In another study, Iranian psychiatrists put a group of women with severe stress issues into a yoga class. Within two months, these women had significantly less stress.2
After all the media coverage about yoga and stress, these results aren’t surprising. But another recent study caught me completely off-guard. That’s because it involves a different kind of stress.
Is Yoga the Newest Antioxidant?
One of the effects of vigorous exercise is the release of free radicals – those nasty molecules that attack your body’s healthy tissues. Anyone who exercises heavily should get plenty of antioxidants to protect against this “oxidative stress.”
And Italian researchers may have identified a new antioxidant “source”… yoga.
These doctors put 16 athletes through a tough workout. Then half of the athletes sat in a quiet place for an hour, while the other half practiced yoga breathing techniques. The results? The athletes who used the yoga breathing techniques showed significantly higher levels of antioxidant activity!3
Hundreds of other studies have revealed a laundry list of benefits for yoga. And considering how gentle most forms of yoga are, it may just be the ideal form of exercise.
Yoga Has You Covered… From Heart to Joints to Muscles and More
Yoga offers so many benefits, I can only give you the highlights. Here are just a few reasons you may want to consider making yoga a part of your life:
- Heart Health. A team of doctors at Bridgeport Hospital measured the heart-health results of a yoga program. After just 6 weeks, all of the participants had a “significantly reduced” heart rate, blood pressure and body mass index.4
- Weight Loss. In another 6-week study, practicing yoga led to a significant weight loss – plus an increase in lung endurance during exercise.5
- Flexibility. In an Indian study, yoga increased the flexibility of computer users (who tend to be sedentary). Participants also reported less frequent muscle and joint pain than computer users who didn’t practice yoga.6
- Pain. Another Indian study found that people with lower back pain experienced noteworthy relief after just 7 days of yoga training.7
- Balance. Researchers at Colorado State University found that 8 weeks of yoga improved balance in their test subjects by 228%.8
- Bone Health. A study in Thailand showed that adding yoga to their routine just three times a week helped prevent bone loss in post-menopausal women.9
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As I said, hundreds of studies prove the health benefits of yoga. And, just as important, I haven’t seen any study that found a single negative effect of practicing yoga.
At this point, you may have the same question that many of my patients ask: Is yoga safe for me?
Exercise That’s Safe and Gentle
Some forms of yoga teach advanced positions that can be difficult to attain. But you can safely practice most forms of yoga, regardless of age or physical condition. In fact, yoga is so gentle, that it’s taught in senior centers and group homes.
In Taiwan, for example, 204 older adults in senior activity centers underwent 12- or 24-week yoga programs. At the end of the programs, all of the participants had improved heart and lung function, range of motion and body composition. The researchers were so impressed with the results, they recommended that all senior activity centers offer a yoga program.10
Of course, as with any exercise, you should talk to your doctor before you start a yoga program. But if you’re looking to get stronger, more flexible and improve your overall health… yoga can do it for you safely and gently.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
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