The ancient practice of yoga may be a way to boost your heart health. “Yoga is designed to bring about increased physical, mental and emotional well-being,” says M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga.
“Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits.”
As part of an overall healthy lifestyle, Cunningham says yoga can help lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve respiratory function and heart rate and boost circulation and muscle tone. It can also improve your overall well-being while offering strength-building benefits.
Yoga good for heart event survivors
Yoga also has proven benefits for those who have faced cardiac arrest, heart attack or other heart event, according to Cunningham.
“The acute emotional stress of such an event certainly has a significant and adverse effect on the heart,” she says.. “That’s where yoga can be a tremendous benefit to manage the stress.” For example, Cunningham said that half of bypass surgery patients go through depression, facing emotions ranging from anxiety to grieving. “All these things come into play when you’ve got a potentially chronic disease to manage for the rest of your life.”
Yoga is calming
The calming benefits of yoga may help with that — and you may see benefits right away. After your first yoga class, your blood pressure will likely be lower, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll feel better, Cunningham says.
Long-term, sustained yoga may play a role in improving overall health, according to Cunningham.
“The more energy you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it,” she says. “After 12 weeks, you may see a dramatic increase in exercise functionality, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels may decrease.”
Check with your doctor first
If you have heart disease, diabetes or are obese, check with your doctor before starting a yoga program. “I highly recommend going to a qualified and trained cardiac medical yoga instructor,” Cunningham says. To find an instructor in your area, check with your local cardiac rehab center or visit cardiacyoga.com.
According to the American Heart Association, alternative therapies such as yoga shouldn’t replace proven methods to lower blood pressure, which include:
- physical activity
- managing weight
- not smoking
- not drinking alcohol excessively
- eating a low-sodium balanced diet and
- taking medications when prescribed