MONTREAL — Yoga appears to reduce blood pressure more effectively than simple stretching when combined with a regular program of physical activity, shows a three-month pilot study in which a researcher from Quebec took part.
Adding yoga lowered systolic pressure, reduced resting heart rate and improved cardiovascular risk over ten years, the researchers found.
“We measured the ‘stretching’, which is very North American, in yoga, which is very Asian,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Paul Poirier of the University Institute of Cardiology and Pulmonology in Quebec. It’s a bit like comparing two cultures.
The researchers recruited 60 patients who had been diagnosed with hypertension or metabolic syndrome. All participants did 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times a week for three months; half of them also did 15 minutes of yoga and the other half 15 minutes of stretching.
There were no differences at study entry between subjects in factors such as age, gender, smoking status, body mass index, resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure, or still pulse at rest.
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure in both groups had dropped by the end of the study. However, yoga reduced systolic pressure (the top number that indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts) by 10 mmHg, compared to just 4 mmHg for stretching.
Yoga also improved resting pulse and cardiovascular risk over ten years.
“We understand that if mortality and morbidity decrease with yoga in the context of cardiac rehabilitation, then that changes the practice,” said Dr. Poirier.
The exact mechanism involved remains unclear, but this study demonstrates that the “stretching” component of yoga is not solely responsible for the observed benefits. In addition, the exercises used have been chosen “so that it is applicable and easy for everyone”.
“There is nothing rocket science in that,” said Dr. Poirier. The problem with yoga is that there’s hot yoga, there’s cold yoga, there’s upside down, there’s upside down… Everyone has an adverse prejudice to the yoga, that these are all people who walk on their heads and who are zen… No. When you look at the exercises we’ve done, we’re probably doing yoga exercises without knowing it.”
This study is in line with Western medicine’s interest in ancestral practices ― such as yoga, tai chi or acupuncture ― which seem to have health benefits.
“There is a bottom. We don’t even need to leave the Americas, underlined Dr. Poirier. We look at Aboriginal medicine (…) with a little contempt, but maybe one day we’ll say, cursed, they weren’t that stupid. Nature is well made.”
The findings of this study are published by the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
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