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4 ways yoga is good for your heart

Yoga is a great way to stay fit, but new research suggests that regular practice can offer you much more than toned arms and abs. Here’s how hitting the mat can help improve your heart health

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1. Yoga helps beat stress

When you encounter a stressful situation, the brain releases adrenaline into your system to help you either fight or flee the threat. This causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure increases.  While this response can help you protect yourself when facing a threat, living in a constant state of stress may wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, people who are prone to stress have a higher risk for heart disease than their calmer counterparts.

 

“What we want is a nervous system that reacts to stressful situations when they happen, but then shifts back to relaxation,” says Dr. Timothy McCall, a San Francisco-based doctor of internal medicine and medical editor of the Yoga Journal. Yoga may help by dampening your body’s reaction to stress. A 2012 article published in the journal Medical Hypotheses suggests yoga could prevent and treat some medical conditions, including cardiac disease, by improving stress-related imbalances in the nervous system.

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2. Yoga reduces inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s way of responding to injury and harmful situations, including stress. But it’s also “at the core of most pathologies, including heart disease,” says Dr. Hana Stastny, a medical doctor and yoga therapy instructor at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Learning to relax through yoga may help decrease stress-related inflammation. A 2010 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine showed that when women who practiced yoga regularly were exposed to a stressor, they had less of a blood compound linked to inflammation than novice practitioners.

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3. Yoga may lower blood pressure

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, long-term high blood pressure can weaken your heart and damage blood vessel walls, causing plaque to build up and potentially narrow or block arteries. This is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

While poor diet and lack of exercise are major risk factors, “we know there’s an element of stress involved in high blood pressure,” says McCall. A 2012 review published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice suggests that yoga practice may be an effective treatment for high blood pressure because of its ability to decrease the body’s response to stress.

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4. Yoga promotes physical activity

People who are physically inactive are twice as likely to be at risk for heart disease as those who do exercise, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Yoga improves strength and flexibility, which contributes to cardiovascular health, says Stastny.

Research shows that people who do yoga are also more likely to stick with an exercise routine. A 2012 study published in the journal Alternative Therapy Health Medicine enrolled previously inactive people in twice-weekly yoga classes for 10 weeks. Researchers found that doing the classes significantly increased the likelihood that the participants would continue to take part in physical activity.

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