Research News

Yoga reduces cardiovascular risk as much as walking or cycling, study shows

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 17 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7713
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

Yoga can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk factors including body mass index, blood pressure, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, says a systematic review that found it had similar benefits to aerobic activities such as cycling or brisk walking.

Researchers analysed 37 randomised controlled trials, including 2768 people, that compared cardiovascular risk factors in adults who practised yoga to control groups who were not offered yoga therapy. People in the studies practised yoga for 30 to 90 minutes at each session, from twice a week to every day.1

Studies included an equal mix of men and women, and participants had an average age of 50. Altogether, 85% (1094/1287) of people who were randomised to yoga completed the studies, which typically lasted 12 weeks, and 89% (1301/1461) of controls were followed up.

Results showed that yoga was associated with significant improvements in each of the cardiovascular risk factors measured, when compared with no intervention. Body mass index was reduced by a mean of 0.77 kg/m2 (95% confidence interval –1.09 to –0.44); systolic blood pressure was reduced by 5.21 mm Hg (–8.01 to –2.42); LDL cholesterol fell by 12.14 mg/dL (–21.80 to –2.48); and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol increased by 3.2 mg/dL (1.86 to 4.54).

People who practised yoga also showed significant reductions in secondary endpoints, including body weight (–2.32 kg (–4.33 to –0.37)), diastolic blood pressure (–4.98 mm Hg (–7.17 to –2.80)), total cholesterol (–18.48 mg/dL (–29.16 to –7.80)), and heart rate (–5.27 beats/min (–9.55 to –1.00)). However, the study found no improvements in fasting blood glucose or glycosylated haemoglobin.

Trials comparing yoga to other types of exercise showed similar improvements in all cardiovascular risk factors measured. “The practice of yoga may be beneficial to managing and improving risk factors associated with CVD [cardiovascular disease] and metabolic syndrome,” said the researchers, led by Myriam Hunink, professor of clinical epidemiology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Many of the studies included in the review were small, and the physiological mechanism for the benefit of yoga on CVD risk remains unclear, noted Hunink. But she added, “However, these results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and, in my view, worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.” She said that it could be particularly useful in people who are unable to take part in aerobic exercise.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7713


View Abstract

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial