Yoga for weight loss?
Whether you have never done a downward dog in your life, or you’re a human pretzel who can bang out headstands and lunge-twists with your eyes closed, you have probably heard of some of the benefits of yoga – namely that it can help you reduce stress and get more flexible. But can it actually help you lose weight? It turns out, the benefits of incorporating the practice into your fitness regimen can definitely help you shed pounds, and there is science to back that up.
If you really want to shed inches quickly, sure, a program like INSANITY or 22 MINUTE HARD CORPS will lean you out in a few short weeks, especially when you incorporate sound nutrition into your fitness plan. But maybe you’re not up for all of the intensity of a high impact program. Yoga can be a great supplement to a more intense program, it can be added as a recovery day between workouts, it can be helpful for gaining flexibility or preventing injury, or it can be a great program all on its own. However you incorporate it, studies show it can reap major benefits to your overall health.
The yoga body fat study
When thinking weight loss, chaturanga sequences may not top your list as a go-to option, but one study tracked obese postmenopausal women who practiced yoga for 16 weeks, and found significant improvements in body weight, body fat percentage, insulin levels, waist circumference, and visceral fat. Another study, where researchers were looking for effects on blood pressure, found not only was their high blood pressure reduced, but they had also effectively reduced blood glucose level, cholesterol, and body weight. Being that these are all major health issues affecting American society today, this is good news!
But I’m not a beginner, obese, or have high blood pressure
If you are not new to yoga and are in fairly good health, there is still a good reason for you to roll out your mat, because even “seasoned” yogis can benefit.
In this study, six subjects trained in Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) for over two years were connected to heart rate monitors to measure their heart rate and oxygen consumption while they performed four rounds of sun salutations for one 30 minute session.
The results: “Participants exercised at 80% of age-predicted maximal heart rate during Round 2, 84% during Round 3, and 90% during Round 4”, showing that regular yoga practice can maintain a healthy heart and also improve it. Another point for Team Yoga!
Yoga and aging well
Those sun salutations have a multitude of benefits for aging well, too! Researchers studied 100 men and women all over 40 years old, to see the effect on some of the “normal” symptoms we associate with getting older, specifically high blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
They found that the correlation of age with these symptoms was stronger in the non-yoga group, suggesting that a rise in blood pressure is NOT an inevitable consequence of an increase in age. WHAT!?
They concluded that the age-related health issues we just accept as normal may be slower in practitioners of yoga. In essence, the yoga group seemed to be aging more slowly than the rest!
Their recommendation? Yoga can be used as an intervention for aging people “to reduce the morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases“.
Stress, healing, and quality of life
By now if you’re not already convinced that you should try a few sessions yourself, here’s the part where I say, “But WAIT, there’s more!”
A comprehensive review entitled, “Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life” was published in 2011, where they gathered information from a multitude of sources to supply the medical community with evidence for the effects on overall wellness and quality of life.
Acknowledging that although the intensity and frequency of practices vary by individual, the health benefits are still unquestioned, as numerous cases show enhanced body flexibility, age-related gait improvement, improved respiratory and cardiovascular function, recovery from addiction and cancer treatment, and the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. It can also improve sleep, muscle strength, and balance. Twelve minutes a day can even help reverse bone loss! Basically, you could say yoga helps enhance overall well-being and quality of life.
Don’t be judgy (like me)
When I was diagnosed with cancer fourteen years ago, a well-meaning relative gave me a book of “healing vinyasa routines” that she thought I might want to use as a way to keep centered and strong during my upcoming medical procedures. Back then, I didn’t know a chaturanga from a chimichanga, and I thought of it as no more than a touchy-feely practice for people who meditated and hugged trees. Sadly, I never even opened the book.
Many things in my life have changed since then, and while I’m no yogi (even though that IS my last name, HA!!), I’ve learned that yoga is much more than the chanting and OHMing that I once thought it was. In fact, I’m finding the more I try it, especially as I age gracefully past my 50th birthday, the more I like it!
If you aren’t on Team Yoga yet, I would encourage you to give it a try. It may not give you the calorie burn in one hour exactly the way a Shaun T or Tony Horton workout will, but it may do more for your body than you think.
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Studies cited in this article: