The risks of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS) go hand in hand. Current studies suggest that the more belly fat you carry, the more likely you are to succumb to one or both killer diseases. Couple that with our high stress, low downtime lifestyles, and most of us are ticking time bombs waiting to happen. But a recent review of scientific literature spanning over 30 years of research suggests that yoga may contain part of the solution to reducing this epidemic. At present 37% of all deaths are attributed to cardiovascular disease, so anything that shows promise of reversing that trend should be welcomed.
The statistics are startling and damming. As the Western world becomes more industrialized, the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses surrounding sedentary life and poor diet increase. Salt intake, junk food and low impact, low motion lifestyles coupled with stressful situations in family, life and work, all lead to increased risk factors and create a myriad of health problems such as high blood pressure, increased weight and time off sick due to illness, injury and general malaise.
A big issue for many people however is Insulin Resistance Syndrome – a disorder that makes you more likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes in the future, which is why current research is focusing tightly on prevention and cure.
IRS and CVD are eminently preventable, with lifestyle choices and exercise, but for various reasons many people struggle with exercise. They either find the high impact, ‘traditional’ aerobic exercise, such as running, classes or weight training too physically exerting and struggle with them, sometimes causing themselves greater injury, or experience minor injury that discourages them at the start of their routine. Coupled with the fact that many people with weight problems are also shown to suffer from self image and lack of confidence, and the problems with them taking up any kind of sport becomes one of both practicality and mental health.
Where does Yoga fit into the puzzle?
An overview of 70 studies between 1970 and 2004, conducted by Dr Innes, suggests that Yoga has a list of benefits that support its use in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and IRS. The result of these studies was astounding.
Of all the reviewed studies, 51 showed the greatest promise. They measured areas such as lipid profiles, weight lost, body composition, blood pressure, free radical production, and markers of cardiovagal functions. These studies also gave insight into insulin resistance and mental health.
42 studies suggested that Yoga had a positive effect on the vagal nerve, which controls the heart and breathing, and that respiratory function was improved. This may also have allowed for the reported increase in antioxidants, reducing free radical volume in the test subjects. This long term health benefit may also feed into the other results.
37 studies into blood pressure indicated that those undertaking Raja yoga and its coupled meditation (the ‘classic’ yoga), exhibited more than a 75% drop. This over 3/4s drop in their blood pressure was in their diastolic measure, indicating a better, stronger operation of the circulatory system and heart. This drop alone would indicate a major benefit for those with cardiovascular problems in the first place, as decreased pressure may mean they would see a reduction in other blood pressure based problems such as headaches.
These studies, spanning over 34 years, suggest that the average weight loss because of yoga practice was between 1.5 and 13.6% of initially body weight. Specifically, 18 clinical trials demonstrated that there was a marked improvement in body weight and body composition – The clinical trials, which took place in six countries, suggest that the weight loss benefit of yoga should not be ignored.
Lipid profiles were examined in 14 studies and the news was good there too. LDL cholesterol, associated with hypertension and CVD, dropped between 13 and 26%, which is a marked improvement. Additionally, an increase in good cholesterol was charted. This shows that yoga affects how the body metabolizes and stores fat and possibly makes us use the food we eat more efficiently. The overall reduction in cholesterol is specifically good news for those with high levels and facing coronary disease warnings, as yoga is easy for anyone to start, and has few barriers to learning.
Insulin resistance (where the body fails to use glucose in the blood for energy, causing diabetes) was examined in 13 studies. It was concluded that the markers of insulin resistance were improved significantly. In all but one of the eight studies, whether they lasted just over a month or up to 12 months, it was suggested that improvements were reported in type 2 diabetes. In health adults, fasting glucose levels were improved. A specific random control trial of diabetic adults in the UK showed a decline in fasting glucose and glycohemoglobin, a form of hemoglobin increased in diabetics. This is an especially positive finding as IRS causes serious health problems.
The evidence that Yoga is a solid form of both exercise and preventative support is mounting daily. Yoga is easy to get into and creates these favorable health conditions, alongside a reduction in stress response, which in turn leads to greater feelings of wellbeing, positivity and possibly healthy eating. Since there are no barriers to learning, and very few contraindications, yoga should be considered in anyone’s regimen for combating the issues caused by lifestyle, health and genetic choices.
These factors may or may not be changeable, but the message that these studies send is that Yoga, in any form, can create a solid base to start combating the factors that could contribute to severe illness and can support those people who may or may not otherwise manage to exercise in a healthy and traditional manner. As yoga increases in popularity, we can only hope that the benefits will become more and more apparent and that more people will discover their risk factors for these and other illnesses dropping. Until that happens, there is no reason that you couldn’t take up yoga to combat your own risks. There are no apparent side effects and even a few of the benefits shown in this trial could have a marked impact on your weight, which in turn will impact on your health, your wellness and your confidence.