Yoga and Health: What do the scientists say?

January is the deadliest month, and often the month many of us reflect, with new resolutions, on our own health and the best moves to dodge the reaper. The good news is that the diciest few weeks, starting just before Christmas and continuing through the fortnight after the New Year, are behind us. So, if you're reading this: congratulations! And the even better news is that yoga can help you keep up your run of good luck.

We've all heard stories of yoga's health benefits from fellow practitioners and teachers. But what do the scientists say?

  1. Cardiovascular health

    While not strictly 'cardio', except in its more active forms, all yoga has a positive effect on cardiovascular risk and many cardiac rehabilitation programmes now include yoga. Studies have found that yoga helps lower blood pressure in people with hypertension, lowers excessive blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and improves lipid profiles, a panel of blood tests used to indicate cardiovascular health risks. One study found that a combination of yoga and changes in diet stopped the progression of heart disease in 47% of patients.

  2. Muscles and Joints

    It will come as no surprise that yoga boosts flexibility, and has been found to be four times more effective than calisthenics. Many runners and dancers discover yoga after an injury. Yoga encourages recovery and as a low impact exercise, yoga builds strength while allowing vulnerable tendons and joints time to heal.

    In studies, yoga has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers after strenuous exercise, decrease pain and improve function in patients with osteoarthritis and to be more effective than a wrist splint in addressing carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Even if you prefer Netflix and chill to a frosty park run, you're in luck. Eight weeks of yoga, practicing three hours a week, has been shown to build greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.

    Yoga has also been shown to help with neck and lower back pain by addressing muscular contraction without the need for anti-inflammatory medication.

  3. Addiction and Diet

    The mindfulness developed in yoga continues beyond the studio and can be a boon in addressing unhealthy behaviours. Yoga is frequently used to combat addiction and is a staple of celebrity rehabilitation centres. Even if your habits are more humdrum – chocolate or coffee, smoking or shopping – yoga helps. Greater mindfulness builds an appreciation of healthy choices, and just one class a week has been shown to reduce weight gain.

    Yoga practice also addresses the anxiety underpinning unhealthy stress management strategies from emotional eating to smoking. Studies have shown yoga to be an effective stress strategy, demonstrably reducing cortisol levels.

    Over the millennia, yoga has been here to help, and continues to be, building  strength, cardiovascular health, and fighting stress to allow you to be the best you, the healthy you.