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If you're working out to help your heart, you may be exerting yourself more than necessary.

A new review of existing research has concluded that all those downward dogs and sun salutations could be as good for the heart as cycling or brisk walking, and easier to tolerate for older people and those with health challenges.

Based on 37 clinical trials, researchers found that doing yoga lowered blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and other cardiovascular risk factors in increments comparable to those seen with aerobic exercise.

“Taken together, these improvements could facilitate and complement a regimen toward better cardiovascular health,” said Paula Chu, a doctoral candidate in health policy at Harvard University who led the study.


Yoga’s benefits have been long suspected, said Dr. Larry Phillips, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

“I think what we’ve seen is with yoga and the relaxation and behavior modification that goes along with it, there is a benefit to all patients, but especially those with heart disease,” said Phillips. “Here we are able to see there are more measurable benefits than we’ve seen before."

Yoga’s breath control and postures are believed to help nourish self-awareness, control stress and develop physical strength and balance.

Chu and her co-authors focused on yoga’s effects on cardiovascular disease, as well as risk factors including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat and abnormal cholesterol levels.

The study team analyzed 37 randomized, controlled trials involving 2,768 people through December 2013. The trials either looked at yoga compared to no exercise or to aerobic exercises. Participants’ average age was 50 and they were followed for anywhere from 12 weeks to one year.

Those who did yoga had significant improvements in a range of risk factors. Blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and heart rate all fell, while HDL "good" cholesterol rose. The participants also lost weight, an average of a bit over 5 pounds.

These changes were similar to the improvements seen among people who did aerobic exercise instead. They, however, did not experience changes in fasting glucose levels or A1C, a measure of long-term blood sugar control in diabetics.

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