Heart Healthy Yoga

Metabolic Syndrome is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It generally results from overweight and abdominal obesity and includes high blood pressure, insulin resistance and elevation of plasma cholesterol and triglycerides. It is an important risk factor as it increases the risk of developing type-2 diabetes five-fold and heart attack or stroke three-fold.

Metabolic Syndrome incidence has been rising rapidly approaching epidemic proportions. It is estimated that it currently affects 34% of US adults. Needless to say this is a major health problem. The good news is that timely treatment can prevent or reverse the risk. The simplest treatment is simply exercise and weight loss.

Yoga has been used to promote health and well-being for thousands of years. In today’s Research News article “Effects of 1-year yoga on cardiovascular risk factors in middle-aged and older adults with metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial”



Siu and colleagues examine whether yoga is an effective treatment for metabolic syndrome. They found that a 1-year yoga program reduced waist circumference, blood pressure, and resting heart rate and increased activity levels. This suggests that yoga is effective in reducing the symptoms of the Metabolic Syndrome.

Probably the most important finding was a 3.5% reduction in waist circumference. Most of the Symptoms of the Metabolic Syndrome result from a high level of abdominal fat. This produces the insulin resistance which in turn increases diabetes risk and raises cholesterol and triglycerides which increases cardiovascular risk. Hence, a key to treatment is to reduce this belly fat and yoga appears to be effective at doing just that.

Yoga is in part an exercise and this by itself could be responsible for the improvement. Indeed yoga practice increased activity levels which promotes the conversion of fat to muscle. So, even if there is no change in weight there is a reduction in abdominal fat, the primary culprit in Metabolic Syndrome.

Yoga, however, produces other beneficial effects that could be responsible for the improvement in Metabolic Syndrome. Yoga practice reduces the physiological symptoms of stress. It reduces the levels of stress hormones and it relaxes the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system. Stress exacerbates the symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome. By reducing the physiological mechanisms by which stress affects Metabolic Syndrome, yoga can markedly improve the symptoms. In addition, by reducing stress, yoga can improve immune system response, increasing the individual’s ability to fight off diseases.

So practice yoga and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.


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