Yoga Gets Hearts Healthy
Yoga and Meditation 3 Times a Week Improves Heart Disease Risk
Nov. 8, 2004 (New Orleans) -- Stretching may do more than make you limber,
according to new research from Yale University School of Medicine. Findings
show that people who practice yoga and meditation at least three times a week
may reduce their blood pressure, pulse and -- most importantly -- their risk of
Moreover, yoga improves heart health in both healthy individuals and those
with diagnosed heart disease, says Satish Sivasankaran, MD, who conducted the
study while training at Yale. He says that volunteers taking a six-week
yoga-meditation program improved blood vessel function by 17%. Blood vessel
function, also called endothelial function, is the way vessels contract and
expand to aid blood flow and is a measure of healthy vessel function. However,
study participants who had heart disease had close to a 70% improvement in
Endothelial function is an important indicator of atherosclerosis because as
the disease and plaque build-up progresses, the blood vessels become less
supple and less able to constrict and expand.
"Stress is known to increase the risk of coronary events. Both anxiety
and type A behavior have been associated with coronary diseases,"
Sivasankaran, who is now a cardiology fellow at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington,
Mass., tells WebMD. Yoga and meditation, on the other hand, are often
recommended as a way to relieve stress.
The study, which was presented during the opening day of the American Heart
Association's 2004 Scientific Sessions here, is the first to look at the way
blood vessels respond to stress.
"The endothelial function improved in the total cohort of patients and
was most dramatic in patients already diagnosed with heart disease," he
And, it doesn't take years of lotus positions and meditation to see
improvement -- the study volunteers had measurable improvement in just six
weeks, he says. The yoga and meditation program included 40 minutes of postural
yoga, 20 minutes of deep relaxation, 15 minutes of yoga breathing, and 15
minutes of meditation.
The study enrolled 33 patients, 30% of whom had heart disease. The study
required them to practice yoga and meditation for an hour and a half at least
three times a week. More than 60% of the volunteers were men and the average
age of the study participants was 55.
The researchers monitored blood pressure, pulse, body mass index (BMI, an
indirect measure of body fat used to measure weight), and cholesterol levels at
the beginning of the study and again after six weeks.
The researchers used an ultrasound to measure the blood flow in an artery of
the arm, he explains.
Yoga Improves Blood Pressure
At the beginning of the study the average blood pressure was 130/79 mmHg.
The American Heart Association says that a normal blood pressure reading is
120/80 mmHg. After six weeks the average blood pressure reading was 125/74
mmHg, which was a significant decrease with yoga and meditation classes. The
volunteers also had a modest reduction in BMI -- from 29 to 28, and they
"had an average reduction in pulse rate of nine beats per minute," he