Hold, Breathe, Release: Yoga Can Improve Blood Pressure

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Practicing yoga for an hour per day can help improve a person’s blood pressure and reduce the risk of serious health complications, according to a new study presented at a major cardiology conference in India.

Researchers from the European Society of Cardiology studied two groups of patients with prehypertension, which is often a precursor to high blood pressure.

Flickr Image Courtesy: Dave Rosenblum, CC BY-SA 2.0
Flickr Image Courtesy: Dave Rosenblum, CC BY-SA 2.0

“Patients with prehypertension (slightly elevated blood pressure) are likely to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) unless they improve their lifestyle,” said lead author Dr. Ashutosh Angrish, a cardiologist at Sir Gangaram Hospital in Delhi, India. “Both prehypertension and high blood pressure increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.”

One group of 30 patients introduced an hour of hatha yoga – combining stretching exercises, breathing control and meditation – into their daily routine. They received yoga training from an expert for one month and continued performing yoga for two more months at home.

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Both groups also engaged in what the researchers term “conventional lifestyle changes,” which included moderate exercise, dietary improvements and quitting smoking, but the second group did not do any yoga.

The researchers found a significant dip in overall blood pressure among the group that performed yoga every day – a nearly five-point dip in overall blood pressure after three months.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

About one-third of the adult population in the U.S. has prehypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers – systolic pressure, which is the top number in a reading, and diastolic pressure. The researchers found that yoga participants saw a 4.5-point dip in their diastolic pressure.

Weight-loss yoga. Credit: Jasmine Kaloudis/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Although the reduction in blood pressure was modest, it could be clinically very meaningful because even a 2 mmHg decrease in diastolic BP has the potential to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease by 6 percent and the risk of stroke and transient ischaemic attack by 15 percent,” said Angrish.

While previous studies have linked yoga to positive heart health and improved diabetic control, as well as reduced pain and mental health benefits, researchers don’t have a clear answer why yoga helps.

“The exact mechanism is not clear from our study but it has been postulated that yoga may decrease the sympathetic drive, reset the baroreceptors and cause neurohumoral effects. The findings suggest that a combination of all three components of yoga (asanas, pranayam and meditation) is helpful, but our study is unable to pinpoint their individual contribution,” added Angrish.

Related: The Health Benefits of Strength Training for Women

Yet the researchers emphasize that yoga should get a closer look as a treatment option. Dr. Shirish Hiremath, president-elect of the Cardiology Society of India, calls yoga “easy to practice” and notes that it’s “very economical” to implement among a large population.

If nothing else, it should be considered an important part of the solution to better blood pressure control and heart health. “Cardiovascular disease can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Exercise, including yoga, a good quality diet, and not smoking are all steps in the right direction,” added Roberto Ferrari, past president of the European Society of Cardiology.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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