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Yoga Beats High Blood Pressure and Much More

yoga for high blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure, perhaps the day will come when your doctor tells you to practice yoga five days a week and to come back and see her in three months. That doctor might refer to the results of a new study from the University of Pennsylvania which shows that yoga can cause a decline in blood pressure for individuals who have mild to moderate hypertension.

Is yoga good for high blood pressure?

If your idea of yoga is standing on your head or performing some impossible pose, you don’t really know yoga. Much of the yoga commonly practiced involves simple, stress-reducing poses, such as those associated with hatha yoga or Svaroopa yoga, which is an especially calming and therapeutic form of yoga.

In the new study, Debbie Cohen, MD, and her colleagues analyzed the results from 58 adults who had mild to moderate high blood pressure and who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The study lasted 24 weeks.

  • Those who practiced yoga with an instructor two to three times per week along with a DVD at home one or two times per week
  • Those who participated in blood pressure education and nutritional counseling sessions (12 total) along with a walking program, monitored by a pedometer, that encouraged up to 10,000 steps daily
  • Those who participated in all the interventions: yoga, education and counseling sessions, and walking

Subjects in the yoga-only group showed a decline of 3 to 4 mmHg in systolic pressure over 24 weeks and a decline of 2 to 3 mmHg in diastolic pressure on 24-hour ambulatory monitoring. Overall, the results were not significantly better than those seen in the other two groups.

This study is not yet complete, as the original plan was to enroll up to 102 participants. Cohen also has not yet published the results of functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the trial subjects, which thus far has indicated that blood flow to the brain is better among those who practiced yoga than in participants in the other two groups.

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If you want to avoid medication to lower your blood pressure, however, yoga may be an option to consider, and it can be used safely along with diet and aerobic exercise. Yoga also offers you the benefits of doing it at home at your leisure, joining a group, practicing with a DVD or video, and trying a variety of forms (but beware of forms not recommended for those with hypertension, such as Bikram yoga or poses with negative effects on blood pressure, such as head stands.

More about yoga and high blood pressure
A meta-analysis of ten studies involving yoga therapy and blood pressure was published recently in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice. The author reported that overall, yoga was found to not only reduce high blood pressure, but also was “demonstrated to effectively reduce blood glucose level, cholesterol level, and body weight, major problems affecting the American society.”

The three health challenges just mentioned are all associated with the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, suggesting yoga may play a role in helping individuals prevent or fight that disease. In a recent study appearing in Diabetic Medicine, researchers noted that stress is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, especially in men. Since yoga can reduce stress, could yoga be an effective option for this population?

Another challenge that often accompanies high blood pressure is overweight or obesity, and yoga has been suggested as a way to help with weight loss. According to a report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, yoga can increase body awareness and lead to mindful eating, which in turn can help people improve their eating habits, make better food choices, and thus lose weight.

The scientific evidence thus far does not suggest that practicing yoga will provide overwhelming benefits for individuals who have high blood pressure or other related health problems. Yet yoga does appear to be helpful and safe tool in the effort to reduce high blood pressure and much more.

Cohen D et al. Preliminary results of the limbs study: assessing effects of yoga on blood pressure reduction. Journal of Clinical Hypertension 2012; 15 Suppl 1:122
Novak M et al. Perceived stress and incidence of type 2 diabetes: a 35-year follow-up study of middle-aged Swedish men. Diabetic Medicine 2013; 30(1): e8
Okonta NR. Does yoga therapy reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension? An integrative review. Holistic Nursing Practice 2012 May-Jun; 26(3): 137-41

Image: Pixabay

Updated 9/15/2014