DEC 09, 2016 9:42 AM PST

Yoga is Good for the Heart

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
A daily dose of yoga could help prevent high blood pressure, a new study finds. Based on their research, scientists are recommending one hour per day to ward off hypertension.
Source: Harvard Health Publications - Harvard University
"Patients with prehypertension (slightly elevated blood pressure) are likely to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) unless they improve their lifestyle," said lead author Dr. Ashutosh Angrish from Sir Gangaram Hospital. "Both prehypertension and high blood pressure increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure."

Prehypertension transitions into definite hypertension when an individual’s systolic blood pressure is over 140 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure is over 90 mmHg. A healthy blood pressure usually consists of a systolic value between 90 and 120 and a diastolic value between 60 and 80.

The best chance of preventing hypertension and all of the conditions that are likely to accompany it is to make lifestyle changes, and in the new study Angrish and team suggest daily yoga. "The exact mechanism is not clear from our study, but it has been postulated that yoga may decrease the sympathetic drive, reset the baroreceptors and cause neurohumoral effects,” Angrish said.

Angrish and his team studied Hatha yoga, defined as the practice of physical yoga postures. This is the type of yoga common to most people in Western culture, and it is designed to “align and calm the body, mind, and spirit in preparation for meditation.” “Hatha” can be translated to either “willful” or “forceful,” meaning the “yoga of activity,” or the “sun and moon,” meaning the “yoga of balance.”

Sixty patients with prehypertension but no other preexisting health conditions were recruited for the study, and researchers split the participants into two groups. One group spend three months doing yoga and made healthy lifestyle changes; the other group also made lifestyle changes but did no yoga. By comparing these two groups after three months, Angrish and his team could draw conclusions on the impact of Hatha yoga on blood pressure.

Researchers incorporated ambulatory blood pressure measurements to get the clearest picture of how the different changes were influencing the participants over time. Ambulatory blood pressure is measured over a 24-hour period using non-invasive devices that take measurements about every 20 minutes during the daytime and about every hour during the night.

Yoga activities in the experimental group included stretching exercises, breath control, and meditation, and lifestyle changes for both groups included moderate aerobic exercise, diet, and smoking cessation.

After three months of the study, Angrish and his team saw a drop in blood pressure for participants in the yoga group: about 4.5 mmHg lower diastolic blood pressure. However, they saw no significant blood pressure change in the non-yoga group. Angrish believes that this small change in blood pressure for the yoga group is significant.

"Although the reduction in blood pressure was modest, it could be clinically very meaningful because even a 2 mmHg decrease in diastolic BP has the potential to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease,” Angrish explained.

In addition to lifestyle changes, other factors like genetics and an individual’s environment can influence the risk of hypertension and heart disease, so Angrish’s study is just another piece of the puzzle. Regardless, an hour of yoga every day could help sooth your mind and your heart, providing one more layer of protection to ward off hypertension.

Sources: Yoga Journal, Patient, European Society of Cardiology, Sir Gangaram Hospital in Delhi, India
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog:
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