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Strike a Pose: Yoga Benefits Heart Health

Yoga consists of slowly stretching the body into a variety of poses while focusing on breathing and meditation. Many practitioners enjoy it to help them relax and increase flexibility, but an added plus is what yoga can do for the heart. While it doesn’t replace doctor-recommended aerobic activity, it could help lower blood pressure, improve respiratory function and heart rate, increase lung capacity, and boost circulation.

Yoga has also shown proven benefits for those who’ve suffered cardiac arrest, heart attack, or other heart event, says M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga. Overall, yoga has a calming effect on the body.

Best Health Magazine offers many suggestions as to the ways yoga can help not just tone your abs, but heal the heart:

Living with stress can cause major problems with the cardiovascular system. Those prone to stress have a higher risk for heart disease than their calmer counterparts says the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Yoga’s calming effect can reduce stress and improve overall health.

Relaxing through yoga may help decrease stress-related inflammation. Dr. Hana Stastny, a medical doctor and yoga therapy instructor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says inflammation is the body’s way of responding to stressful situations and is “at the core of most pathologies, including heart disease.”

Long-term high blood pressure is a major risk factor for a heart attack. Practicing yoga could help keep blood pressure in check—keeping the heart from building up plaque in the arteries.

Previous studies have shown that practicing yoga on a regular basis leads to increased overall activity. Practitioners are also more likely to stick with an established exercise routine. Increased levels of exercise, in turn, lead to improved cardiovascular health.

Finding the right yoga class can be a challenge—no one wants to stroll into a class expecting quiet meditation and poses on the easy side only to discover they are surrounded by 20-somethings ready to sweat buckets in an intense workout. If you’re, let’s say, supporting quite a few more gray hairs than those 20 year olds, find a class that focuses more on the basics of yoga: Breathing, poses, and meditation. A good instructor will gauge your flexibility and tailor the poses for your ability level. Most importantly, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

For more information on keeping your heart healthy or to schedule an appointment to discuss any heart concerns you may have, contact the caring providers of CCHC Heart and Vascular Specialists at 252-63-HEART (634-3278).