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Can Yoga Prevent Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the number-one killer for both men and women in the U.S.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. annually.

Doctors usually recommend eating a heart healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking in order to help lower your risk of heart disease.

But, a new study suggests yoga could improve your cardiovascular health and lower your risk of heart disease as well.

According to an article posted in Indian Express, researchers looked at 1,404 records, and conducted 37 randomized control trials. They found that compared to non-exercisers, people who practiced yoga displayed a drastic improvement in body mass index, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

How else can yoga improve your heart health?

Listen in as Dr. Mike shares this recent study on how yoga can help improve your cardiovascular health, while simultaneously lowering your risk for heart disease.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: May 8, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Anti-aging and disease prevention radio is right here on RadioMD. Here's author, blogger, lecturer and national medical media personality, Dr. Michael Smith, M.D. with Healthy Talk.

DR MIKE: Should it really surprise us that yoga is good for our hearts—our cardiovascular system? I mean it is exercise, right? I have some friends who don't consider it exercise. I don't know why. They probably have never tried it. I don't practice yoga. I've tried it a couple of times and it was hard. I was sweating. I was huffing and puffing. And now, we have a study showing us that it is good for your heart. Of course. Exercise is, so, of course yoga is good for your heart. This was published in The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. This is a good peer-reviewed journal. Let me read you the whole title: The Effectiveness of Yoga in Modifying Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in Metabolic Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis of Randomized Control Trials.

This is what we call a meta analysis. This is where the researchers went back and looked at different studies that meet a certain criteria. You put those together, you pull the data and you come up with a result. They found out of 1,404 records, 37 randomized control trials were included in this review. So, that's pretty good. From this huge database--this is the power of a meta analysis is that you're able to pool data. You're able to go from maybe 500 people to 5000 people. And if these trials, based on your criteria, are similar, then it's okay to pool that kind of data and extrapolate a conclusion. You're not actually doing the study on 5000 people, you're just pooling data together. There are limitations to it, but meta analysis is an accepted form of research in medicine.

So, it says here that out of a little over 1400 records, 37 trials met their criteria and here's what they found. Compared to non-exercise participants, yoga showed significant improvement for body mass index, systolic blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (that's the bad stuff) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (that's the good stuff). The bad stuff went down and the good stuff went up.

Significant changes were seen in body weight, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides and heart rate, but not fasting glucose. According to the investigators, "This review helps strengthen the evidence for yoga as a potentially effective therapy for such conditions and results support earlier reviews on the positive benefits of yoga for cardiovascular disease prevention." It's interesting. I'm sure a lot of my listeners practice yoga on a daily basis. It's tough. Wanting to learn a little bit more about yoga, I went to this class, I think I paid for like four sessions and I only made it through two.

It was probably eighty or ninety percent women, the rest were guys. So, very few men in there. It was a beginner's class and I have to tell you that the women picked it up a lot quicker than the guys, some of the poses and stuff. It was just basic stuff—basic poses. It was a woman instructor. I found that interesting that us guys we had a harder time doing any of the poses and women picked them up pretty quick. And the guys, we were the ones sweating like pigs. A friend of mine who is a yoga instructor, she said there are poses in yoga that, maybe better for men.

I guess it's a fad now. I think it's called man yoga or male yoga. She said that published a really good article on yoga poses that men can do that don't take quite as much ability, agility, that kind of stuff. You don't have to be quite as limber to do them.

So, I went to and I found the article "Top Ten Yoga Poses For Men" and I tried the first five. I remember some of these, by the way, from the class. I didn't know the names, and I'm still not sure that they are the exact same ones. The first one in this article is called The Mountain.

I'm not even going to worry about trying to pronounce the yoga name, just The Mountain. Stand with your big toes touching, your heals slightly apart, balance the weight evenly on your feet, lift up the arches, you engage the thigh muscles, but you don't lock your knees—I did that, that wasn't so bad—I could do that one. It was basically standing. I don't think some instructors consider The Mountain to be a pose. It's really a pre-pose, I think. But according to this article, hey, if I did it every day I would improve strength, flexibility in my feet, posture, and work my thighs and core a little bit. It even says here that it is really the foundation for all other standing poses. It's called The Mountain and has pictures of all of this as well. That one wasn't so bad.

And then you go to the second one here, called The Tree. Shift your weight onto one foot, it says right foot, but I don't know if that really matters. You put all of your weight on your right foot, firmly on the floor, nice and secure, you bend the left leg at the knee and place the sole of the left foot on your inner right thigh. I could not do that. Picture me standing with my right foot down, I lift up my left leg, bend it at the knee and you try to turn it and you try to place the sole of your foot at the thigh level. That was no, no, no, that was not going to happen. I had to put it on the calf. That's the best I could do.

But I could see how with time and practice, I could probably little by little get more limber and move that left foot up towards higher up on the thigh getting more into that tree pose. Always keep the toes pointed towards the floor. Bring your palms together in front of your chest and keep your weight centered over the left foot. You think that you want to center over the right foot, but when you do that you fall over because it's all about center of gravity. Once you bend the left leg and put the left foot against your right leg, your center of gravity is actually toward your left now. I had to learn that a little bit. The balance is more toward the left.

And you've got your palms together in front of your chest and you just kind of hold that position keeping the hips parallel to the front of the room. I did that one, too. It wasn't so bad, I just couldn't get my foot up. That's a tougher one. Holding that one was tough. It doesn't say how long to hold them for. And, actually, it does say here that you are supposed to change feet, but I didn't do that. I just did the right foot. Release the foot and repeat on the other side. See, I don't read instructions. I just held it for twenty or thirty seconds. I could do that one.

The next one I tried was Standing Forward Bend. You start in The Mountain pose with your hands on your hips and you exhale tucking your chin slightly towards your chest, bending forward at the hips. You relax your head, neck and shoulders. That was the important part. You really do have to relax your upper body when you do this and you let your arms hang loosely and you place your palms and fingertips on the floor. It's kind of like touching your toes, but there's a little bit more bend and you're a little bit more relaxed in the upper body.

I found that to be helpful. By relaxing my upper body I was able to touch the floor a lot easier. So, this one I could do. I'm actually limber when it comes to touching toes. I can do that. The fourth one I tried was called The Warrior. That one was just impossible. I couldn't do that one. And the last one I tried was called the Down Facing Dog. I couldn't do that, but I could do the first three okay.

So, yoga is good for your heart. Of course! It's exercise. Try something, be active. The body was made to move, and breath and be active. So do that.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD.

I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.