Adding yoga to regular exercise may help

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Adding yoga to your regular exercise regimen may help support cardiovascular health. Halfpoint Images/Getty Images
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a risk factor that can lead to more severe health problems.
  • People can take proactive steps to improve their blood pressure through lifestyle modifications.
  • A​ recent study found that yoga may provide more benefits for controlling blood pressure than other stretching methods.

High blood pressure can be dangerous, but people can take proactive steps to manage it. However, what works for one person might not work for someone else.

Researchers are still working to understand the most effective methods and add-on therapies for controlling blood pressure.

A pilot study recently published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology looked at the effectiveness of yoga as a way to help manage high blood pressure.

Compared to the control group, the group that did yoga saw more significant improvements in resting blood pressure and heart rate compared to stretching.

Blood pressure has to do with the force of blood flow throughout the body. Blood pressure must be at a certain level for the body to function. If blood pressure is too high or too low, it can lead to adverse health outcomes.

High blood pressure can increase someone’s risk for stroke, heart attack, or kidney damage. Dr. Leonard Pianko, cardiologist in Aventura, Florida, who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today:

“Hypertension is known as the silent killer because you may experience no symptoms. It is a major risk factor for heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke and can potentiate other medical issues such as diabetes and elevated cholesterol.”

T​here are lifestyle changes people can make to help lower blood pressure. For example, people can strive to maintain a healthy weight and modify their diet to have less sodium and fat.

“There are many medications that have proven to be effective in lowering your blood pressure. But lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet, refraining from smoking, and hydration have also been proven to enhance the effectiveness of the drugs,” Dr. Pianko further noted.

This particular pilot study examined the benefits of yoga in blood pressure management. The study included sixty participants who had hypertension.

Researchers randomly divided participants into two groups. Both groups completed an aerobic exercise program. Then, one group added fifteen minutes of yoga five days a week. The other group did fifteen minutes worth of stretching five days a week. This intervention lasted three months.

While both groups saw improvement in resting blood pressure and heart rate, the group that did yoga saw a more significant improvement in blood pressure, heart rate, and Reynolds risk scores.

A Reynold risk score helps measure risk for adverse heart outcomes and cardiovascular disease.

The results indicate that yoga could likely be an effective add-on intervention to help improve blood pressure levels.

Mind-body exercises for hypertension

“Many studies have looked into the beneficial physical effects of Transcendental Meditation, Tai Chi, and other forms of mind-body exercises. This study, which focused on yoga, is [a] good reinforcement that our mind plays a significant role in our physical health and that these techniques should be incorporated into our recommendations for lifestyle intervention.”
— Dr. Alon Ronen, cardiologist at Bridgeport Hospital, who was not involved in the study, speaking to MNT

The study authors noted that there are a few possible reasons why they saw more of an improvement among the participants that did yoga. It could decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, decrease cortisol levels, and promote vasodilation.

D​r. Pianko weighed in with his thoughts and said there could be several explanations, “including the effect yoga has on our autonomic system.”

“Our adrenal glands produce our fight-or-flight hormones which increase both our heart rate and blood pressure. Specific types of yoga can decrease our cortisol level, which is a stress hormone, thereby reducing our blood pressure. Exercise with the addition of yoga can modulate these hormones to a level of tranquility,” he explained to MNT.

“As with results seen with other mind-body blood pressure lowering activities, there seems to be a true correlation with our mental health influencing our stress hormone levels. Mechanisms remain unclear and may be related to sleep pattern changes; however, the outcome benefit is seen.”

The study did have some limitations. First, it only included a limited sample size and was done over a short time frame. This indicates the need for more extensive studies with more long-term follow-ups.

The study authors acknowledge that they may have misclassified some participants who were more newly diagnosed with high blood pressure. They also did not measure participants’ exercise capacity.

Regardless, the study provides more evidence as to the health benefits of yoga and opens up the possibility of future studies in this area.

Study author Dr. Paul Poirier noted that there are limits to the study because it is a pilot study. However, he pointed out that yoga had additional benefits compared to stretching exercises alone.

“​Yoga is probably a better alternative after exercise training than stretching because there’s an add-on effect of yoga compared to stretching. The add-on effect is blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation [improvement]…This study will probably stimulate others to do bigger studies with different populations, and if the science adds up in the same way then practice could be changed.”
— Dr. Paul Poirier, study author

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