Yoga and relaxation techniques have long been shown to help reduce physical pain and to improve mental health. Research has linked yoga and mindfulness (practicing a meditative way of thinking) to improved cardiovascular health. So, you can improve your heart health as you calm your mind.
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A study at Cleveland Clinic looked at the power of the mind-body connection in regulating risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Different techniques tested
Dr. Joan Fox and co-investigator Thomas Morledge, MD, enrolled patients at moderate risk for heart disease and divided them into three groups for the study. They gave each group different instructions about which lifestyle practices to follow.
- The first group practiced yoga as part of their health routine.
- The second practiced mindfulness, a thought practice that stems from Buddhist teachings. Among other things, mindfulness emphasizes increasing positive thoughts and reducing negative thoughts. This group also included some yoga in their regimen.
- The third, or control group, enacted the lifestyle recommendations of the American Heart Association, which include stretching and muscle relaxation exercises and attending lectures on healthy living and wellness.
After 24 weeks, participants answered questions about their mental outlook and researchers measured participants’ blood pressure, heart rate and heart rhythm. Researchers also looked for physical evidence of increased risk for blood vessel disease in blood and urine specimens taken from those who were part of the study.
Although the results showed that all three programs helped improve the mental well-being of all involved, those who made yoga and mindfulness part of their lifestyle showed significantly higher improvement than those using a traditional lifestyle program.
Mike Crawford, MS, manager of Cleveland Clinic’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, states, “A well-rounded exercise program includes cardio, strength, flexibility and balance exercises. Yoga can contribute to strength, flexibility and balance, and also help to create a mind-body connection to help with relaxation.”
However, Crawford adds, if you have to pick one exercise to improve your heart health, at this time, choose cardio. “While the benefits of aerobic (cardio) exercise in the management of heart patients are well documented, yoga has less scientific research behind it at this point.”