13 benefits of yoga that are supported by science

Derived from the Sanskrit word "yuji", which means yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that unites mind and body (1).

It incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and postures designed to promote relaxation and reduce stress.

It is said that practicing yoga has many benefits for both mental and physical health, although not all of these benefits have been backed by science.

This article discusses the 13 benefits of yoga based on evidence.

1. Can reduce stress

Crossed legs on yoga mat

Yoga is known for its ability to relieve stress and promote relaxation.

In fact, several studies have shown that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the main stress hormone (2, 3).

One study demonstrated the powerful effect of yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed.

After a three-month yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression (4).

Another study of 131 people had similar results, showing that 10 weeks of yoga helped reduce stress and anxiety. It also helped to improve the quality of life and mental health (5).

When used alone or together with other methods to relieve stress, such as meditation, yoga can be a powerful way to control stress.

Summary: Studies show that yoga can help relieve stress and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. Relieve anxiety

Many people begin to practice yoga as a way to deal with feelings of anxiety.

Interestingly, there is a lot of research that shows that yoga can help reduce anxiety.

In one study, 34 women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder participated in yoga classes twice a week for two months.

At the end of the study, those who practiced yoga had significantly lower levels of anxiety than the control group (6).

Another study followed 64 women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by severe anxiety and fear after exposure to a traumatic event.

After 10 weeks, women who practiced yoga once a week had fewer symptoms of PTSD. In fact, 52% of the participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD (7).

It is not entirely clear exactly how yoga can reduce anxiety symptoms. However, it emphasizes the importance of being present in the moment and finding a sense of peace, which could help treat anxiety.

Summary: Several studies show that practicing yoga can lead to a decrease in anxiety symptoms.

3. It can reduce inflammation

In addition to improving your mental health, some studies suggest that practicing yoga can also reduce inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal immune response, but chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of proinflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer (8).

A 2015 study divided 218 participants into two groups: those who practiced yoga regularly and those who did not. Both groups performed moderate and strenuous exercises to induce stress.

At the end of the study, individuals who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who did not (9).

Similarly, a small study conducted in 2014 showed that 12 weeks of yoga reduced inflammatory markers in survivors of breast cancer with persistent fatigue (10).

Although more research is needed to confirm the beneficial effects of yoga on inflammation, these findings indicate that it may help protect against certain diseases caused by chronic inflammation.

Summary: Some studies show that yoga can reduce inflammatory markers in the body and help prevent proinflammatory diseases.

4. It could improve the health of the heart

From pumping blood throughout the body to supplying tissues with important nutrients, the health of your heart is an essential component of overall health.

Studies show that yoga can help improve heart health and reduce several risk factors for heart disease.

One study found that participants older than 40 who practiced yoga for five years had lower blood pressure and pulse rates than those who did not (11).

High blood pressure is one of the main causes of heart problems, such as heart attacks and strokes. Lowering your blood pressure can help reduce the risk of these problems (12).

Some research also suggests that incorporating yoga into a healthy lifestyle could help slow the progression of heart disease.

One study followed 113 patients with heart disease, analyzing the effects of a lifestyle change that included a year of yoga training combined with dietary modifications and stress management.

Participants saw a 23% decrease in total cholesterol and a 26% reduction in "bad" LDL cholesterol. In addition, the progression of heart disease was halted in 47% of patients (13).

It is not clear what role yoga might have played compared to other factors such as diet. However, it can minimize stress, one of the main contributors to heart disease (14).

Summary: Alone or in combination with a healthy lifestyle, yoga can help decrease the risk factors for heart disease.

5. Improves the quality of life

Yoga is increasingly common as a complementary therapy to improve the quality of life of many people.

In one study, 135 elderly people were assigned to six months of yoga, walking or a control group. Practicing yoga significantly improved quality of life, as well as mood and fatigue, compared to the other groups (15).

Other studies have analyzed how yoga can improve the quality of life and reduce symptoms in patients with cancer.

One study followed women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Yoga decreased the symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting, while improving the quality of life in general (16).

A similar study analyzed how eight weeks of yoga affected women with breast cancer. At the end of the study, women had less pain and fatigue with improvements in levels of strengthening, acceptance and relaxation (17).

Other studies have found that yoga can help improve the quality of sleep, improve spiritual well-being, improve social function and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer (18, 19).

Summary: Some studies show that yoga could improve the quality of life and can be used as a complementary therapy for some conditions.

6. Can fight depression

Some studies show that yoga can have an antidepressant effect and could help reduce the symptoms of depression.

This may be because yoga can lower the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that influences the levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression (20).

In one study, participants in a program of alcohol dependence practiced Sudarshan Kriya, a specific type of yoga that focuses on rhythmic breathing.

After two weeks, participants had fewer symptoms of depression and lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of ACTH, a hormone responsible for stimulating the release of cortisol (2).

Other studies have had similar results, which show an association between the practice of yoga and the reduction of depression symptoms (21, 22).

According to these results, yoga can help fight depression, alone or in combination with traditional treatment methods.

Summary: Several studies have found that yoga can decrease the symptoms of depression by influencing the production of stress hormones in the body.

7. Could reduce chronic pain

Chronic pain is a persistent problem that affects millions of people and has a variety of possible causes, from injuries to arthritis.

There is a growing body of research that shows that practicing yoga can help reduce many types of chronic pain.

In one study, 42 people with carpal tunnel syndrome received a wrist splint or did yoga for eight weeks.

At the end of the study, yoga was found to be more effective in reducing pain and improving grip strength than wrist splints (23).

Another study conducted in 2005 showed that yoga could help reduce pain and improve physical function in participants with osteoarthritis of the knees (24).

Although more research is needed, incorporating yoga into your daily routine may be beneficial for those who suffer from chronic pain.

Summary: Yoga can help reduce chronic pain in diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.

8. It could promote the quality of sleep

Poor sleep quality has been associated with obesity, high blood pressure and depression, among other disorders (25, 26, 27).

Studies show that incorporating yoga into your routine could help promote better sleep.

In a 2005 study, 69 elderly patients were assigned to practice yoga, take an herbal preparation or be part of the control group.

The yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more rested in the morning than the other groups (28).

Another study analyzed the effects of yoga on sleep in patients with lymphoma. They found that sleep disorders decreased, the quality and duration of sleep improved and the need for sleep medications decreased (29).

Although the way it works is not clear, it has been shown that yoga increases the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness (30).

Yoga also has a significant effect on anxiety, depression, chronic pain and stress, all common contributors to sleep problems.

Summary: Yoga can help improve sleep quality due to its effects on melatonin and its impact on several common contributors to sleep problems.

9. Improves flexibility and balance

Many people add yoga to their exercise routine to improve flexibility and balance.

There is considerable research that supports this benefit, demonstrating that you can optimize performance by using specific postures that point to flexibility and balance.

A recent study analyzed the impact of 10 weeks of yoga on 26 male college athletes. Doing yoga significantly increased several measures of flexibility and balance, compared to the control group (31).

Another study assigned 66 elderly participants to practice yoga or calisthenics, a type of bodyweight exercise.

After one year, the total flexibility of the yoga group increased almost four times more than that of the calisthenics group (32).

A 2013 study also found that practicing yoga could help improve balance and mobility in older adults (33).

Practicing only 15 to 30 minutes of yoga each day can make a big difference for those looking to improve performance by increasing flexibility and balance.

Summary: Research shows that practicing yoga can help improve balance and increase flexibility.

10. It could help improve breathing

Pranayama, or yogic breathing, is a yoga practice that focuses on controlling breathing through exercises and breathing techniques.

Most types of yoga incorporate these breathing exercises, and several studies have found that practicing yoga could help improve breathing.

In one study, 287 college students took a 15-week class where they were taught various yoga postures and breathing exercises. At the end of the study, they had a significant increase in vital capacity (34).

Vital capacity is a measure of the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs. It is especially important for people with lung disease, heart problems and asthma.

Another study conducted in 2009 found that the practice of yogic breathing improved symptoms and lung function in patients with mild to moderate asthma (35).

Improving breathing can help increase endurance, optimize performance and keep the lungs and heart healthy.

Summary: Yoga incorporates many breathing exercises, which could help improve breathing and lung function.

11. Can relieve migraines

Migraines are severe recurrent headaches that affect approximately 1 in every 7 Americans every year (36).

Traditionally, migraines are treated with medications to relieve and control symptoms.

However, growing evidence shows that yoga could be a useful complementary therapy to help reduce the frequency of migraine.

A 2007 study divided 72 patients with migraines into a yoga therapy or a self-care group for three months. Practicing yoga led to reductions in the intensity of headache, frequency and pain compared to the self-care group (37).

Another study treated 60 patients with migraines using conventional care with or without yoga. Doing yoga resulted in a greater decrease in the frequency and intensity of headaches than conventional care alone (38).

The researchers suggest that doing yoga can help stimulate the vagus nerve, which has been shown to be effective in relieving migraines (39).

Summary: Studies show that yoga can stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce the intensity and frequency of migraine, alone or in combination with conventional care.

12. Promote healthy eating habits

Conscious eating, also known as intuitive eating, is a concept that encourages being present while eating.

It's about paying attention to the taste, smell and texture of your food and noticing any thoughts, feelings or sensations you experience while eating.

This practice has been shown to promote healthy eating habits that help control blood sugar, increase weight loss and treat disordered eating behaviors (40, 41, 42).

Because yoga places a similar emphasis on mindfulness, some studies show that it could be used to encourage healthy eating behaviors.

One study incorporated yoga into an outpatient treatment program for eating disorders with 54 patients, and found that yoga helped reduce both the symptoms of the eating disorder and concern about food (43).

Another small study analyzed how yoga affected the symptoms of binge eating disorder, a disorder characterized by compulsive eating and a sense of loss of control.

It was found that yoga causes a decrease in episodes of binge eating, an increase in physical activity and a small decrease in weight (44).

For those with and without disordered eating behaviors, practicing mindfulness through yoga can help in the development of healthy eating habits.

Summary: Yoga encourages mindfulness, which can be used to help promote conscious eating and healthy eating habits.

13. Can increase strength

In addition to improving flexibility, yoga is an excellent addition to an exercise routine for its strengthening benefits.

In fact, there are specific postures in yoga that are designed to increase strength and build muscle.

In one study, 79 adults performed 24 cycles of sun salutations, a series of fundamental postures that are often used as a warm-up, six days a week for 24 weeks.

They experienced a significant increase in upper body strength, endurance and weight loss. Women also had a decrease in body fat percentage (45).

A 2015 study had similar results, showing that 12 weeks of practice led to improvements in strength, strength and flexibility in 173 participants (46).

According to these findings, practicing yoga can be an effective way to increase strength and endurance, especially when used in combination with a regular exercise routine.

Summary: Some studies show that yoga can cause an increase in strength, endurance and flexibility.

The bottom line

Multiple studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of yoga.

Incorporating it into your routine can help improve your health, increase strength and flexibility and reduce the symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.

Finding the time to practice yoga only a few times a week may be enough to make a noticeable difference in regards to your health.

Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-benefits-of-yoga


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