Yoga is Good For Your Heart

For regular yoga practitioners, we clearly know yoga provides a bounty of health and wellness benefits.  The aspects of flexibility, strength, stress-reduction, and improved energy becomes a primary focus for most people.  But a new study adds an even more convincing and motivating reason to do yoga regularly.  A study from the University of North Texas Health Science Centre has discovered strong evidence that stretching and flexibility are related to the health of arteries and overall cardiovascular health.

This study performed a stretch test on various groups (men and women of different ages) and discovered that in the middle and older age groups, the subjects displayed increased levels of arterial stiffening in those with poor flexibility (measured by trunk flexibility):

“The key new findings of the present study are as follows. First, in middle-aged and older subjects, arterial stiffness deteriorated in the poor-flexibility groups compared with the high-flexibility groups. Second, a negative relationship between flexibility and arterial stiffness was observed in middle-aged and older subjects, but there were no relationships in young subjects. These results support our hypothesis that a less flexible body indicates arterial stiffening, especially in middle-aged and older adults. Furthermore, age-related arterial stiffening was greater (∼30% in baPWV) in the poor-flexibility than in the high-flexibility groups, which suggests that poor flexibility is associated with greater age-related arterial stiffening.”

This study was able to determine that these results stemming from flexibility levels was independent of other fitness levels (ie strength and cardiovascular fitness).  They suggest that the addition flexibility training could further enhance the cardiovascular benefits of other fitness modalities:

“Recently, Cortez-Cooper et al. examined the effects of strength training on central arterial compliance in middle-aged and older adults. In this previous study, a stretching exercise group was included as a control group. An unexpected finding of the study was that a stretching program significantly increased carotid arterial compliance. Together with our results, these findings suggest a possibility that improving flexibility induced by the stretching exercise may be capable of modifying age-related arterial stiffening in middle-aged and older adults.”

The exact mechanism of how stretching promotes arterial compliance and reduces the onset of age-related arterial stiffening is not fully determined.  The authors suggest that since vascular tone is partially regulated by sympathetic nerve activity, regular stretching may chronically reduce resting sympathetic nerve activity and enhance compliance.

This initial study has opened doors for more research looking at the cardiovascular benefits of stretching.  The authors of this study conclude that “flexibility exercise such as stretching, yoga, and pilates would be integrated as a new recommendation into the known cardiovascular benefit of regular exercise”.  Besides appreciating the obvious benefits of increasing circulation through blood and lymphatic vessels, we can also embrace the knowing that we are directly improving the structural health of our arteries every time we step on the mat.  This translates overall into reduced stress on the entire cardiovascular system and heart.  Another ‘thumbs up’ for yoga.

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