By Faye Martins
When it comes to exercising for a healthy heart, most people envision running, kickboxing or cycling. While these cardio activities certainly do give the heart some good exercise, new research suggests that activities such as yoga training may actually yield even greater benefits overall.
The study measured how far participants could stretch on a standard sit-and-reach test. This test was performed with the individual sitting on the floor, back pressed against the wall. With legs straight, the participants stretched their arms out and bent at the waist, stretching the arms towards the feet as far as possible. With the results of this simple test in hand, the group was then measured on more standard things like endurance, muscular strength, blood pressure, cardio respiratory fitness, aortic pressure, the speed of a pulse of blood flow and how long the pulse took to travel between certain regions such as the neck and leg.
The study found trunk flexibility to be a very good indicator of arterial stiffness in test subjects 40 years and older. Arterial stiffness is one of the key factors in the development of cardiovascular disease. The stiffness of the arteries was found to be independent of other factors such as endurance or muscle strength which were both previously considered good indicators of overall heart health.
Stretching exercises such as yoga postures, teach the arteries to be flexible in addition to the muscles, though scientists aren’t exactly sure how or why this happens. Another separate study showed that middle aged adults who began a daily stretching routine significantly improved flexibility in the carotid artery in the neck, further strengthening the validity of this new finding.
Theoretically, the relationship between flexibility of the body and flexibility of the arteries could be found in the fact that both muscles and arteries gain the ability to be flexible from collagen and elastin. If stretching exercises send signals to the body to make collagen and elastin more readily available in response to the new needs of the body as a whole, perhaps the arteries also benefit from a more ready supply of both compounds, thus making them more flexible. This is only one of many theories, and it will undoubtedly take years for scientists to identify the exact underlying cause of this phenomenon. For now, it is good enough to know that such benefits exist.
Since arterial stiffness was found to be independent of other factors such as endurance and blood pressure, a strong heart may not necessarily be a healthy heart. It’s more than just the strength of the heart muscle itself; the arteries are of great importance as well. The relationship between flexibility and arterial flexibility in the study was so strong that the doctors who conducted it recommended adding yoga practice to the recommendations for cardiovascular health.
Yoga exercises may be added to any existing cardio exercise routine such as running, biking or cycling to bring flexibility to the arteries. In addition, yoga is extremely beneficial for the entire body all by itself with no other exercises needed. A longstanding belief within the medical community was that yoga in and of itself was not adequate to promote heart health, but this is clearly not the case. Yoga alone is wonderful for the entire human body, bringing balance and health to the system as a whole.
It is an indisputable fact that those who practice yoga throughout their lives enjoy greater levels of health than their peers. Now thanks to continuing scientific research, we can more readily identify why practicing Yoga for cardiovascular health is a good idea.
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