The benefits of yoga are nothing new. An ancient practice and philosophy originating in India, yoga has been shown to improve flexibility, strength, cardiovascular health, stress and anxiety.
There are different elements in yoga with different benefits – physical postures, like the ‘downward dog,’ contribute physical benefits, while breathing techniques and meditation may help to de-stress.
Some studies have even shown yoga to have antihypertensive effects – meaning they helped to reduce blood pressure.
But could yoga even be prescribed as a treatment for hypertension? That’s what researchers sought to find out in a recent systematic review.
Aiming to collect all the available evidence to date, they trawled through medical journals looking for papers that compared groups of people who did and didn’t do yoga, measuring the blood pressure of each before and after. In all, they found 49 trials which met these criteria.
Most of the people who participated in the trials were middle-aged, overweight, and with high blood pressure. The groups practiced yoga about three to five times a week, and each session went for somewhere between half an hour to an hour.
They found that yoga – at least, certain forms of yoga – could reduce blood pressure by a significant amount.
The people who practised a form of yoga that included breathing techniques and meditation three times a week, educed their systolic blood pressure by an average of 11 points over a 13-week period. The authors said that was comparable to what could be achieved by some antihypertensive medications, and therefore lead to a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease.
The authors say that these findings suggest yoga is a viable lifestyle prescription that can be made by doctors to reduce a person’s blood pressure. But it’s still unclear how and which kind of yoga compares to other forms of exercise for this purpose.