A Cardiologist Explains How Yoga Can Benefit Heart Health
“When you think of heart-healthy workouts, hardcore cardio sessions probably come to mind. (Burpees! Sprints! Squat jumps!) While it’s true that going on a nice, long run or sweating your way through a HIIT class has noteworthy benefits for your ticker, there are also gentler ways to look out for your body’s all-important organ. In fact, Kapil Parakh, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and medical lead for Fitbit, says that unrolling your yoga mat and breathing through pose after pose has plenty of heart-healthy benefits.
First things first, Dr. Parakh wants to remind you that all exercise is good for your heart. Period, end of story. That said, yoga has its own list of perks to brag about. The physical aspect of yoga, called “asana,” has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and even lower blood sugar in diabetics. Yogic breathwork practices, or “pranayama,” have also been shown to improve heart health by regulating the autonomic nervous system, which helps your heart function properly. “There is also an interesting mind-body connection,” adds Dr. Parakh. “Yoga can help reduce stress, which if unmanaged, can lead to negative health effects, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” he explains. Yep, that means your yoga practice is basically protecting your heart in a myriad of ways.
“Yoga can help reduce stress, which if unmanaged, can lead to negative health effects, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.” — Kapil Parakh, MD
Of course, Dr. Parakh recommends mixing up your workouts to reap the maximum, heart-healthy rewards of exercise. “Science is increasingly showing that any type of physical activity has [heart] health benefits. It does not have to be strenuous activity in order to get cardiovascular benefits. Brisk walking is one of the most accessible forms of exercise and I often recommend it to my patients,” he says. “If you enjoy going to the gym, there are a wide range of options. You can use a treadmill, join a spin class, try a rower or use a stair climber. If you’re craving nature, go for a run, take a hike or go on a bike ride.” He adds that strength training is also key for your cardiovascular health, so add some bodyweight or weight training to your rotation if your schedule allows.
Another important thing to note: “As a general rule, the American Heart Association and World Health Organization recommend reducing your time spent sedentary and instead encourage you to aim for 75 to 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week,” he says, pointing out that many wearables—including the Fitbit—help you navigate your optimal heart rate zones with ease so you can make the most of your movement.
Finally, remember that your heart health is intertwined with other things besides your step count (like, say, what you eat and how much you sleep). So as you’re making moves to take better care of your ticker, keep in mind that small, holistic changes can add up. For now, however, hop on your mat and know that a few cat-cows are enough.”