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Yoga – A Viable Solution For Obesity And Heart Disease

Yoga – A Viable Solution For Obesity And Heart Disease

Would it shock you to know that 1 million people are going to die from heart disease this year in the US alone? Could you be next?

Heart disease is a silent killer within the US, and other industrialized nations. Although diseases like cancer and AIDS get most of the headlines, heart disease claims most of the victims. The American Heart Association says that heart disease is the leading cause of premature death and permanent disability. Heart disease costs the industrialized world millions of dollars every year. These dollars are not just spent to treat the sick, but also are the result of the loss of productivity that heart disease causes as well.

Of course, in terms of medicine, we are better off now than at any time in history. Modern science has made it possible to recover from heart disease, but it’s not always a full recovery, and sometimes help doesn’t make it in time.

The better way to treat heart disease is before it becomes serious. In other words, preventing it in the first place. A promising solution to heart disease that over time has been proven by science to lessen your risk comes from the wisdom of the ancient age.

Yoga Scientific Studies – Effect On The Body And Mind

In the United States, 15 million people have discovered that yoga leads to better health.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. A total of 34 years of independent scientific studies have proven that yoga can lower your risk of heart disease. These studies did not relate to each other until recently when researcher Dr. Kim E. Innes, from the University of Virginia (Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies), compiled a systematic review of 70 studies regarding yoga and its effects on the body and the mind.

Dr Innes collected the results of 70 controlled studies from all over the English-speaking world, performed between 1970 and the present. Many of these studies focused on yoga’s relationship to heart disease and obesity.

  • 70 studies were included in the review
  • 63% of the studies were conducted between 1990-2004
  • 51 studies concentrated on yoga’s influence on insulin resistance, lipid profiles, blood pressure, weight loss and body composition
  • 13 studies addressed yoga and insulin resistance specifically
  • 18 studies elaborated on yoga and heart disease
  • 14 studies showed yoga improves lipid profiles

These results were achieved with yoga exercises that centered on asanas, (poses) and pranayamas (focusing on breathing technique). The studies lasted anywhere from 30 days all the way to 12 months.

Insulin Resistance

One of the most critical indicators of heart disease is Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS). IRS lowers your body’s ability to metabolize food and therefore maintain a healthy weight. It is a pre-diabetes condition that affects many people. Those most at risk for developing insulin resistance, and potentially heart disease, have one or more of the following problems:

  • Glucose intolerance
  • Insulin resistance
  • Lipid abnormalities
  • Visceral fat (belly fat)
  • High blood pressure

In addition they may be Type A personalities, a behavior that has been associated with potential high risk for coronary disease, as described by cardiologist Meyer Friedman in the 1950s.

Modern medicine recognizes that there is a strong relationship between body and mind. Since yoga balances these two, it is not surprising that in India yoga has been a common prescription for conditions associated with insulin resistance such as diabetes and hypertension.

A Little More About Yoga

Although yoga originated 4000 years ago in India, it has enjoyed a surge of popularity over the recent decades in the Western world, with over 15 million people in the US practicing it. There are three types of yoga practiced in Western society:

Hatha Yoga, known as the forceful yoga, is the one most commonly practiced in the United States for its aerobic nature.

Raja Yoga, known as classical yoga, is the second most practiced in the United States. It’s slightly less aerobic then Hatha, but focuses more on getting you ready for meditation with poses such as ‘Lotus’.

Mantra Yoga, known as “yoga of potent sound”, focuses on sounds or chants meant to bring about a mental/spiritual transformation and calm the nerves.

Comparing to other forms of exercise, yoga has a great advantage. It can be practiced by almost anyone and is largely safe even for the elderly, disabled or chronically out of shape.

One of the things that makes yoga so feasible is that it can be done in the privacy of your own home. Today, it’s easier than ever to practice yoga. You can join a class, buy a video, or even get a yoga game for your Wii.

What Did The Studies Prove?

When combined, these 70 studies spanning 34 years showed that yoga might aid in the management of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other IRS-related conditions. Specifically, the following data where compiled.

  • Healthy and unhealthy people who participated in the studies reported their sleep had improved
  • People became less resistant to Insulin
  • Individuals with hypertension or type 2 diabetes showed marked improvement
  • Sugar levels were reduced (high sugar levels are indicators of insulin resistance)
  • LDL (bad cholesterol) was lowered as much as 25.2%
  • Triglycerides decreased by as much as 28.5%
  • Blood pressure went down
  • HDL (good cholesterol) increased

Most importantly, participants actually lost weight. Weight loss in overweight people is a necessary step in order to reduce CVD and IRS risk factors. On average, people who practiced yoga lost up to 13.6% of their original body weight.

Psychological Effects Of Yoga

The far-reaching benefits of yoga go beyond the physical and into the mental and emotional. That’s because in addition to asanas (poses), yoga concentrates on deep breathing exercises and meditation (pranayamas).

When the body is stressed free radicals run rampant causing damage to muscles, cells, and genes. Studies have found that alternation between the asanas and the pranayamas increases antioxidants and antioxidative enzymes into the blood stream, which fight the harmful free radicals.

Indeed, five of the 70 studies focused specifically on yoga and stress. These results were very encouraging. People who practiced yoga had:

  • Reduced stress
  • An increase in anti-oxidants
  • A decrease of free radicals in their systems
  • A better ability to cope with stress
  • Lower levels of depression
  • Reduced levels of anxiety
  • Less anger
  • Decreased tension
  • Less fatigue
  • Better sleep

Although the reason yoga works is still unclear, it can be credited to two facts according to Dr Innes. First, yoga stimulates the Vagus nerve, which descends from the brain stem and passes through the neck to innervate organs such as the heart and lungs. This stimulation makes the internal organs and the overall cardio-respiratory system work better. Second, yoga creates feelings of well-being which in turn foster positive downstream effects on the neuroendocrine system resulting in relief from stress and a strengthened immune system.


In the past 34 years, approximately 70 studies have been conducted concerning yoga and good health. Researcher Kim E. Innes has gathered all these studies together and has drawn conclusions based on all of them. The studies looked at the effects of yoga on high risk factors such as heart health, insulin resistance, respiration, pre-diabetes markers lipid profiles, stress, and obesity.

Overwhelmingly, these studies have shown that yoga:

  • Makes breathing easier
  • Lessens cortisol levels (too much cortisol favors fat deposition in the abdomen)
  • Reduces the fight-or-flight hormones that cause anxiety (catecholamines)
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves heart health
  • Enables people to handle stress

As the study by Dr. Innes concludes, a substantial body of published research suggests that yoga may be instrumental in improving overall health in both healthy populations and those with chronic IRS related conditions.

Tom Pikes

Tom Pikes, PhD, is a medical researcher with ten years of experience in cardiovascular research and is currently studying how yoga can help combat stress and obesity. In his website,, devoted to people who want to manage their weight, visitors can find useful information on medically approved obesity weight loss programs. Tom is fascinated with new studies that show how solutions to today’s health problems are many times provided by old wisdom. In an age where people in the US go frenzied for other supposedly “smart” ways to lose weight, such as promotional codes for Medifast diet or Nutrisystem discount codes, it is encouraging to know that yoga provides an easy, affordable and elegant weight loss solution. : October 5, 2009, 11:22 am