There has been an ongoing debate regarding yoga’s ability to improve cardiovascular and physical fitness. A new study suggests that, for sedentary college students, regular Vinyasa yoga practice may boost both fitness and mental health, and reduce stress.
In the study, researchers tested the hypothesis that yogis who performed sun salutations that increased their heart rate into cardiac endurance zones, would demonstrate physical and heart health benefits.
They randomly assigned twenty-five, sedentary college students to either 8-weeks of Vinyasa yoga, 1 hour per day, 3 days per week (11 students), or a no-treatment control group (14 students). They measured change along a number of dimensions of health before and after the intervention in both groups.
Following 8 weeks, sedentary students in the yoga group showed significant physical gains compared to the control group. These included decreased cardiac output, and increased cardiac efficiency, and decreased plasma control.
In addition, yoga group members had a significantly reduced body fat percentage, and greater upper and lower body muscle strength. Collectively, this suggests that yoga group participants experienced significant physical and heart health benefits after only 8 weeks of consistent yoga practice.
Yoga group members also demonstrated improved psychological wellbeing at the end of the Vinyasa yoga intervention. This included significantly lower ratings of perceived stress, greater self-acceptance, and better relationships with others. In addition, plasma cortisol levels, a biomarker of stress, were significantly lower in yoga group participants than controls.
Taken together, these findings suggest that Vinyasa yoga may promote physical and psychological health and well-being in sedentary college students, and also provide the important function of stress relief. This may be particularly important for those who are reluctant to take up other forms of vigorous aerobic exercise like running or cycling.
Originally published at YogaU Online