Yoga is an ancient mind-body discipline that originated in central Asia. Characterized by a combination of breathing exercises, various postures and meditation, yoga has been used for centuries as a form a therapy to treat a variety of medical conditions in Eastern medicine. There are many forms of yoga, ranging from meditative exercises to stretching. Presently, yoga is most commonly used as a form of meditation and low-impact exercise.
Studies have shown that practicing yoga can have a multitude of health benefits, such as aiding in the management of insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and osteoarthritis. Some studies have also suggested that yoga can also be used to help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Does Yoga Work?
There are only a handful of studies examining the effectiveness of practicing yoga on lipid levels, but the results appear to be promising. In some cases, total cholesterol levels were reduced by up to 30%. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol levels, were lowered between 14% and 35% in these studies.
On the other hand, the effectiveness of yoga on improving high density lipoproteins (HDL), "good" cholesterol," and triglycerides appears to vary. In some studies, triglyceride levels were slightly lowered by up to 11% and HDL levels were increased by up to 12%. In other studies, HDL and triglyceride levels did not appear to be significantly impacted.
The time periods of these studies varied widely, between two months and five years, as did the type of yoga practiced by study participants. The forms of yoga included Sudarshan Kriya, which incorporates rhythmic breathing exercises, and Hatha yoga, which emphasizes gentle stretching and meditation. The time spent doing these exercises ranged from 30 minutes to three hours, performed up to three times a week.
How Does Yoga Lower Cholesterol?
Although the exact manner by which yoga may lower cholesterol and triglycerides is not known, there are some theories. One thought is that yoga can help reduce stress, which, in turn, may lower various risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol. In some of these studies, performing yoga also caused a modest reduction in weight loss. Previous studies have indicated that losing weight can also lower your lipids, so the weight loss noted in those individuals practicing yoga may also have lowered their cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well.
Should I Use Yoga to Help Control My Cholesterol?
Even though yoga is considered to be a form of low-impact exercise, you should still consult your healthcare provider before incorporating it into your cholesterol-lowering plan – especially if you have a health condition that may limit your mobility or you haven’t exercised in a while. However, despite the limited number of studies that have been conducted, yoga appears to hold promise in helping control cholesterol levels and other health conditions. Any form of movement counts when it comes to controlling your cholesterol, so yoga can be an excellent part of your exercise regimen.
If you are interested in learning more about yoga and how to include it in your exercise routine, you can:
- Take a class at a local college or yoga school
- Check your local gym or Y
- Use a DVD, mp3 player or other device at home
Additionally, Ann Pizer, About.com’s guide to yoga, has a wide variety of resources that demonstrate proper technique and ways yoga can improve your health.
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Mamtani R, Mamtani R. Ayurveda and yoga in cardiovascular disease. Cardiology in Review 2005;13:155-162.