The Carousel spoke to Kapil Parakh, MD, Fitbit Medical Lead, about how yoga can be transformative for the heart. We also break down the top five yoga positions for your heart health.
Arterial stiffness and how Yoga can help
“Firstly, it’s important to note that all exercise is good for your heart health. However, when looking at Yoga specifically, there is increasing evidence that it may support heart health by reducing arterial stiffness.”
“For context, arterial stiffness is caused by the hardening and stiffening of the arteries as we age or by diseases like diabetes and hypertension and can often lead to several health issues.
“During adolescence, our arteries and blood vessels are loose and flexible, allowing blood to flow through them with minimal effort. However, the larger arteries, including the aorta, lose flexibility as we age, causing them to stiffen.
Although arterial stiffness feels inevitable for us all, it is possible to slow down the process. Studies show that cardiovascular exercise and stretching through practices such as yoga can reduce the signs of arterial stiffness after as little as twelve weeks. This is due to the increased blood flow and dilation of your arteries.”
Stretch to destress and boost your heart health
“Yoga has well-known benefits in reducing stress and encouraging mindfulness in its practices. However, many people are often unaware of the impact of prolonged stress on your heart health.
“Long-term stress comes with high levels of the hormone cortisol, which has been found to increase blood pressure, blood sugar and even cholesterol. All of which can negatively impact your heart and increase your chance of cardiovascular diseases.
“Yoga can help reduce stress and improve mental health with numerous potential downstream benefits “Additionally, practising yoga regularly has been found to decrease blood pressure and assist in regulating the autonomic nervous system, which directly influences the proper functioning of the heart.”
Incorporate yoga into your workout routine
“Many of us have a regular workout routine, but the vast majority do not incorporate yoga as part of this. As well as all the benefits listed above, Yoga will also help with muscle recovery – making it a great component of your overall wellness routine.
“Even setting aside 15 min per day to practise yoga is a fantastic starting point and may impact your heart health over time progressively.
“Fitbit Premium includes a range of guided Yoga programs from beginner to expert for those who don’t know where to start. You can also find both quick and longer sessions, perfect for helping you match your busy schedule.
“Mixing up your exercise schedule with alternative workouts such as yoga will help you to maximise the potential benefits these workouts have on your heart.”
Top five yoga positions for heart health
Yoga can often be daunting for beginners; however, adding five simple positions into your daily routine can kick-start your practice before progressing to something more challenging.
Marjariasana (Cat pose)
Begin by lowering yourself onto all fours with hips positioned over knees and shoulders over hands. Exhale while pressing through your hands and rounding your back towards the ceiling, drawing your stomach towards the backbone. The head and tailbone should be facing down, naturally dropping with the spine’s curve.
Adho Mukho Svanasana (Downward facing dog pose)
Begin by lowering yourself onto all fours with hips positioned over knees and shoulders slightly behind the hands. Exhale whilst tucking toes and spreading the palms of your hands wide before lifting knees off the floor and pushing back before straightening arms and drawing thighs back to straighten the legs with hips drawn up towards the sky. Stretch heels towards the floor, ensure not to lock the knees, and position the head between the upper arms in line with the spine, facing towards the ankles.
Dandasana (Stick pose)
Sit on the floor with legs outstretched in front of you. Engage both thigh muscles whilst flexing both feet towards the sky. Stack shoulders on top of hips while drawing them away from the ears. Place flattened palms on either side of the hips whilst straightening arms to support the spine and inhale while lengthening towards the ceiling.
Paschimottanasana (Two-legged forward bend)
Starting in stick pose, inhale and exhale before leaning forward, ensuring the spine stays lengthened and not curved. Walk hands out along each side of the legs before holding the furthest point you can go by grabbing the legs or feet. Continue to breathe and lean deeper into the stretch on each exhale.
Tadasana (Mountain pose)
Stand with feet a few inches apart, facing forward in parallel. Begin to lift the heels whilst spreading toes and rising onto the balls of the feet before lowering back down to the floor.