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No doubt about it – vigorous exercise offers a boatload of health benefits, assuming you do it in moderation and give your body a chance to recover between workouts.
High-intensity exercise places your body under significant amounts of short-term stress. Just watch a Crossfit workout. In response to that stress, your body is forced to adapt, to become stronger, so it can weather that stress the next time you hit the gym for a kick-butt workout.
Exercise affects almost every organ in your body. One major one that changes in response to exercise is your heart. Your heart responds to aerobic exercise by becoming more efficient at carrying oxygen to your hard-working muscles. It adapts so it can pump more blood with each heartbeat. As a result, your resting heart rate slows down. Your heart has become more efficient.
In addition, the number of tiny blood vessels called capillaries that deliver blood to muscles increase in number so your muscles can suck up more oxygen. Inside cells, other things are going on. Tiny organelles called mitochondria that make ATP, the energy that powers your workouts increase in number. The mitochondria realize they’re going to have to work harder so they have to build more “energy factories” to meet the demand.
The Amazing Health Benefits of Exercise
These adaptations are beneficial when it comes to your health. Research clearly shows regular aerobic exercise lowers the risk for heart disease – but that’s not all exercise does for your health. Take a look at these other ways exercise boosts health:
- Bolsters brain power and helps prevent cognitive decline with age
- Reduces stress. Ever notice how calm you feel after a workout?
- Lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome by helping insulin function better. Plus it lowers blood sugar.
- Lowers the risk for certain types of cancer, especially colon, breast and uterine cancer.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Has favorable benefits on blood lipids including LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Helps with weight control.
- Lowers your risk for catching colds and flu viruses by enhancing immune function. (as long as you don’t overdo it.) Plus, if you work out at a gym, your risk may be higher with all those people sneezing and coughing. Home workouts rule!
- Reduces loss of muscle mass and strength as we age. (mainly true of resistance training)
- Preserves bone mass and lowers the risk for osteoporosis. (high-impact and resistance training)
- Lowers overall mortality and the risk of becoming disabled. Who can argue with that?
I’m sure we missed some of the wonderful benefits of exercise. There are almost too many too list! In fact, no supplement comes close to matching all the health benefits of exercise.
Exercise Only Works When You Do It – But Maybe You Don’t Have to Sweat
We recently read that scientists are working on an exercise pill, a supplement that offers the benefits of exercise without getting your heart rate up. Whether they’ll be successful in their quest remains to be seen.
Even if they do develop such a pill, it’s doubtful it will ever offer all the benefits that moving your body does. Some things you can’t get from swallowing a pill.
With all the benefits, why are so many people resistant to exercise? Sadly, only about one in four Americans meet the current recommendations for exercise, about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
Some people say they don’t like to sweat. If you fall into that category, you’ll love the results of a new study that just came out. This study showed you can get the cardiovascular benefits of exercise without working up a sweat.
Sound too good to be true? Maybe not – just bring out the yoga mat.
Yoga for Heart Health?
Can a yoga workout offer some of the benefits of aerobic exercise? A new review study suggests it can. This study looked at 37 other studies involving 2,768 participants. It showed yoga workouts may offer cardiovascular benefits comparable to taking a brisk walk or bike ride – and other health bonuses as well.
Participants who did yoga experienced a drop in heart rate, a decrease in total cholesterol of almost 19 points and a drop in body weight. Yoga was also linked with a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
How might yoga offer some of the same benefits as workouts that make you sweat? No one knows at this point.
One obvious way yoga might do good things for the heart is by reducing stress. That probably explains the drop in blood pressure but it doesn’t explain other benefits like the reduction in cholesterol and body weight.
It’s possible that once people begin practicing yoga, they make better dietary choices and lose weight as a result. Maybe there’s another explanation we don’t know about yet.
Lest you’re skeptical, and you should be until a number of studies find the same thing, a 2005 study found yoga offers many of the benefits of “sweatier” forms of exercise.It showed yoga reduces a number of risk factors for heart disease by improving how insulin works (lowering the risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2-diabetes), improving lipids, reducing blood pressure and helping with weight control.
Yet another study in 2006 showed yoga enhances blood vessel health by improving endothelial function, the ability of blood vessels to relax. Good endothelial function is strongly linked with heart and blood vessel health. It’s already known that vigorous exercise improves endothelial function but yoga may have similar benefits.
Other Ways Yoga Improves Your Health
In addition, research shows yoga reduces inflammation, a risk factor for a number of health problems including heart disease, type 2-diabetes, some forms of cancer and autoimmune disease.
When we speak of inflammation, we’re not talking about the redness and swelling you get when you prick your finger or burn your hand. Chronic inflammation is the product of an over-reactive immune system, often triggered by poor dietary choices, lack of exercise, stress, too little sleep and other poor lifestyle habits. It doesn’t cause obvious symptoms but is believed to play a role in many chronic diseases. Needless to say, you don’t want it.
Yoga does a lot of good stuff, agreed? We recommend doing a combination of aerobic exercise, resistance training using weights or resistance bands and a mind-body exercise like yoga. Each of these forms of exercise offers unique health benefits.
If you can’t do aerobic exercise or simply won’t do it, we hope we can talk you into doing three yoga sessions a week. All you need is an exercise mat and a yoga DVD to get started in the wonderful world of yoga.
More Than One Type of Yoga: Which Will You Choose?
Yoga is a diverse form of exercise and consists of a variety of different types. We won’t go into the various types in this post, but if you’re just getting started, hatha yoga is a good way to learn the basics.
Fast Fact: There are over 100 different types of yoga. Who knew?
Once you’re conditioned and ready for a more challenging workout, try a power yoga workout. Power yoga workouts get your heart rate up more than hatha yoga. Plus, power yoga helps build strength and core stability. Yoga poses, in general, help improve posture and balance.
Having done power yoga workouts myself, I can tell you it’s pretty challenging, depending on the instructor. Dr. A and I do a variety of workouts, moderate amounts of high-intensity exercise and resistance training mostly. I also run – a form of exercise with a high rate of injury.
We both plan on adding more yoga moves to our routines in the future for relaxation, for recovery and to lower the risk for injury. The good thing about yoga is you have so many options. You can do a low-intensity workout to relieve stress or ramp up the intensity with power yoga.
The Bottom Line?
Yes, you can get cardiovascular benefits from a workout that doesn’t leave you gasping for air and covered in a pool of sweat. Yoga seems to offer many of the benefits that higher intensity workouts offer – improvements in blood lipids, a reduction in resting heart rate, decreased inflammation, lower blood pressure, better balance, stress reduction, and a reduction in body weight. Plus, if you do power yoga, you also get some of the benefits of strength training.
In addition, people who do yoga often become more mindful in other areas of life too. By helping control stress, yoga helps tame the tendency to overeat, mindlessly snack and eat the wrong foods.
Many yoga enthusiasts claim yoga helps them eat more mindfully. If you’re looking for a low-impact way to exercise that offers multiple health benefits, we hope you’ll give yoga a try.
Try a yoga session and see how you like it! Let us know. 🙂
Harvard School of Public Health. “The Benefits of Physical Activity”
J Am Board Fam Med. 2005;18(6):491-519.
European Journal of Preventive Cardiology December 15, 2014 2047487314562741.
Live Science. “Yoga Shows Potential to Ward Off Certain Diseases”
Clin. Cardiol. 29, 393–398 (2006)