Yoga has become an extremely popular form of exercise in western countries over the past few decades, with many people opting to practise it in favour of aerobic forms of exercise.
Yet, for some, its benefits remain questionable – could an exercise which involves remaining still really be as good for you as running, swimming or cycling? They view it as a form of relaxation for the mind rather than a physical workout.
But a group of scientists in the US has claimed that doing yoga can offer just as many advantages as sports that get the heart racing.
By conducting a randomised trial on 2,700 test subjects who either practised yoga, did other forms of exercise or did no exercise at all, they found that the positive health benefits of yoga were no different from other forms of exercise – it resulted in a significant improvement for body mass index, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
The results, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, showed that in both cases the outcome was much better than in those doing no form of exercise.
What this means, according to the scientists, is that the physiological mechanisms of yoga could be similar to those that take place during aerobic exercise.
The fact that yoga offers these physical benefits means it can protect against cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, both of which are major public health problems worldwide and often lead to heart attacks.
Metabolic syndrome occurs when a person suffers from at least three of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
It is not the first time studies have suggested yoga can offer such medical benefits. In 2005, for example, a randomised trial found evidence to suggest yoga reduced mortality, cardiovascular disease and hospital admissions, while enhancing quality of life. A different study carried out that year found yoga reduced the effects of diabetes.
But while the positives are clear, there is still little understanding of how yoga offers these health benefits.