Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation to increase relaxation and balance the mind, body and spirit. Heart rate variability, a sign of a healthy heart, has been shown to be higher in yoga practitioners than in non-practitioners, according to a recent study.
Yoga for heart health can regulate the heart via the autonomic nervous system, through the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. While the former causes a rise in heart rate, the latter slows it. When these two systems are in balance, the heart rate is steady.
The ongoing variation of heart rate is known as heart rate variability (HRV), or the normal changes in heart rate. Healthy individuals have a high level of HRV compared to those with cardiac abnormalities, who experience a low HRV.
The recent study from the Indian Institute of Technology evaluated two groups of participants to assess whether yoga practice can improve heart health. Prior studies have indicated that yoga practice may improve heart health through relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, postures, and stretching.
The researchers examined HRV variations in heart rate from participant electrocardiograms. The first group of 42 healthy individuals who were not yoga practitioners were compared with the second group of 42 experienced yoga practitioners.
Findings showed that in participants who regularly practiced yoga, parasympathetic activity was stronger, indicating better autonomic control over heart rate as well as a healthier heart.
Yoga is among the top 10 complementary and alternative modalities used, according to a recent National Health Interview Survey. In addition to improving heart health, people use yoga for a variety of health benefits.
• Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
• Combat stress
• Improve flexibility
• Increase lung capacity
• Aid in the treatment of anxiety, depression and insomnia
An advantage of yoga is that it combines key elements of exercise -- aerobic, strength training, core stability, flexibility, and balance – into a unified approach.
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