Women who practice yoga may enjoy health, fitness benefits

Yoga, as a form of exercise, offers beneficial musculoskeletal fitness, according to a recent study.

Earlier this year, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published the results of an exploratory study on how yoga impacts general physical fitness. The study specifically focused on results from short-term yoga training of young, healthy adults. The training included 24 sessions over eight weeks.

Yoga is defined by The University of Maryland as “a philosophy that connects the body, breath and mind to energize and balance the whole person.” The practice, which dates back more than 6,000 years, includes various stretching techniques, breathing exercises and meditation.

Hatha yoga is the term to describe the many different styles, some of which are: Ashtanga (power) yoga, Bikram (hot) yoga, Integral yoga , Iyengar (focus on alignment) yoga, Kundalini (focus on breath) yoga and Viniyoga. In the short-term study, participants practiced Bikram yoga in 90-minute sessions, following standardized and supervised postures in a  heated and humidified studio.

“Isometric deadlift strength, handgrip strength, lower back/hamstring and shoulder flexibility, resting heart rate and blood pressure, maximal oxygen consumption (treadmill), and lean and fat mass (DEXA) were measured before and after training,” according to the study summary. “Yoga subjects exhibited increased deadlift strength, substantially increased lower back/hamstring flexibility, increased shoulder flexibility, and modestly decreased body fat compared with Control. There were no changes in handgrip strength, cardiovascular measures, or maximal aerobic fitness. In summary, this short-term yoga training protocol produced beneficial changes in musculoskeletal fitness that were specific to the training stimulus.”

The University of Maryland lists the following health problems as conditions that have been lessened with the practice of yoga:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Arthritis — osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer, as an adjunct therapy to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system. One study of 68 breast cancer patients found that those who practiced yoga has less anxiety and depression compared to those who didn’t. Even the DNA damage from radiotherapy was slightly less in the yoga group compared to the control group.
  • Chronic back pain
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease, by lowering cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, lessening stress, and reducing the frequency and severity of chest pain (when combined with a healthy diet)
  • High blood pressure
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lung diseases
  • Pregnancy
  • Migraine headaches
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