When I turned 40, I was overweight and showing signs of being diagnosed with hypertension and high cholesterol, all considered precursors for the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). I feel blessed as it was the same year that I discovered yoga! By showing up on my mat for myself on a regular basis, I was able to change behaviors that were not supportive of my mind-body health and longevity. I am now 60 and my blood pressure is actually on the low side and my LDL/HDL ratio is 1.3 (which for women is 1/2 the average risk for developing CVD) all without any medications. Is it possible that yoga can play a significant role in the primary prevention of CVD? Let’s check in with the latest research.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are the gold standard research design and meta-analysis is a study design that typically is based on RCTs to systematically assess the outcomes of previous research to extract overall results about a particular body of research. In this month’s Current Problems in Cardiology, a meta-analysis that included 64 RCTs (16,797 participants) studying the effects of yoga on modifiable CVD risk factors was published, so this is hot off the press information! In the introduction to this research, it mentions that 80% of CVD is caused by modifiable risk factors, leaving only 20% due to perhaps family history or genetics (nuture versus nature). The most significant modifiable risk factors include hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and body weight. Yoga, as an ancient Indian practice, traditionally involves breath practices along with physical shapes and meditation, supporting the balance of the sympathetic and parasympathic parts of the autonomic nervous system. Such combination of exercise and relaxation has been studied and reported to reduce CVD risk factors.
It was my personal experience that yoga and all of its contemplative practices assisted me in reducing my overall stress levels and softened my ‘Type A’ personality that developed from a chaotic (AKA traumatic) childhood. As my stress levels came down, my opportunities to choose healthier experiences for myself expanded. I became a more conscious consumer, in what I ate, what TV and movies I watched, what news I read, and which people I engaged with. I started to notice what charged my batteries and what depleted my batteries and moved towards the uplifting experiences and away from the ones that felt dark and heavy in my body and mind. As a result, I lost weight (and friends), lowered my blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and discovered the freedom of setting healthy boundaries for myself, which is a lifelong gift I gave myself. But, if you don’t want to just take my word for it, take a look at this latest research that concluded yoga is effective in controlling those modifiable risk factors and can play a role in the primary prevention of CVD!