Our heart works round the clock to maintain the steady flow of oxygen, blood and hormones in our body; no wonder this crucial organ requires utmost care for smooth functioning. When it comes to heart health measures, many of us stick by their daily exercise routine and nutrient-rich meals, and yet face threat of heart attack and cardiac arrest over a period of time. This could be due to a pre-existing disease, family history or even poor mental health with unreleased stress, depressive tendencies and anxiety issues. (Also read: Cardiologist on hidden causes of heart attack during physical activity, how to prevent it)
While screening is important for those with high-risk factors or family history, to safeguard our cardiovascular health in general, it is imperative to follow a routine that takes care of majority of your risk factors. The ancient practice of Yoga is increasingly gaining popularity for its holistic approach to health. There are asanas, pranayama techniques and meditation practice that helps in releasing stress, providing workout to crucial organs, bones and muscles, and helping in reversing ill effects of sedentary lifestyle.
"Yoga, an ancient practice originating from India, has gained global recognition not only as a form of physical exercise but also as a holistic wellness discipline. It incorporates physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana), which collectively can have beneficial effects on heart health," says Dr. Indranill Basu Ray, cardiologist and electrophysiologist.
"Numerous studies have investigated the impact of yoga on heart health. For instance, research published in high impact reputed journals has highlighted the positive effects of yoga on various cardiovascular risk factors. Systematic reviews have also suggested that yoga may be beneficial for people with hypertension and metabolic syndrome," says the expert.
Dr Indranill says Yoga has a calming effect on our nervous system which can help reduce stress and manage blood pressure. Yoga also aids in reducing bad cholesterol and improving lipid profile apart from controlling blood sugar levels.
Here are ways Yoga can help boost our heart health:
1. Blood pressure management: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease. Yoga has been shown to help lower blood pressure due to its calming effect on the nervous system, which can improve arterial relaxation and reduce stress levels, both of which are beneficial for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
2. Stress reduction: Chronic stress can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and over time, it can damage the cardiovascular system. Yoga’s emphasis on deep breathing and relaxation can reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, thus potentially lowering the risk of heart disease.
3. Improved lipid profile: Regular yoga practice has been associated with better lipid profiles, including reduced levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, as well as increased HDL cholesterol, which is protective against heart disease.
4. Weight management: Obesity is a well-established risk factor for heart disease, and yoga can be an effective tool for weight management. Although not all forms of yoga are vigorous, many styles can help burn calories, and even gentler forms of yoga can help control weight by reducing stress and improving mindfulness, which may reduce emotional eating.
5. Anti-inflammatory effects: Inflammation is a key component of heart disease. Yoga may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which is beneficial for heart health. The practice of yoga has been shown to decrease inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein, which are linked to cardiovascular disease.
6. Improved physical fitness: Although yoga is often considered a low-impact activity, it can improve physical fitness, including increased aerobic capacity, strength, flexibility, and balance. Improved overall fitness can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
7. Enhanced mind-body awareness: Yoga enhances self-awareness and mindfulness, which can lead to better choices regarding diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle, thereby indirectly benefiting heart health.
8. Smoking cessation support: Yoga may also support smoking cessation efforts. Since smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, yoga’s potential role in helping people quit smoking could have significant heart health benefits.
9. Diabetes management: Yoga can be part of a lifestyle intervention to manage diabetes, a condition that significantly increases the risk of heart disease. By helping with glycaemic control and weight management, yoga can be a beneficial adjunct to other diabetes treatments.
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How to incorporate Yoga into your routine for heart health
To incorporate yoga into a heart health regimen, one should ideally seek out qualified yoga instructors who can tailor practices to individual needs, especially for those with existing heart conditions. It's important to start with gentle practices and gradually move to more advanced postures and techniques as fitness levels improve.
While Yoga can be an effective tool for prevention and management, it should complement traditional medical care for heart disease, not replace it.
Yoga practices for heart health
For better heart health, incorporating yoga into one’s daily routine can be highly beneficial. Here are some specific yoga practices and tips that can help in promoting cardiovascular health, as suggested by Dr Indranill:
Certain asanas or yoga postures are known to help improve heart health by enhancing circulation, reducing stress, and improving the flexibility of blood vessels. Some postures that are often recommended include:
⦁ Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Improves posture and breathing, foundational for other asanas.
⦁ Vrikshasana (Tree Pose): A balancing pose that helps with mental focus and circulation.
⦁ SetuBandhasana (Bridge Pose): This asana can help regulate blood pressure.
⦁ Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): Calms the nervous system and helps reduce stress.
⦁ Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Opens the chest and improves respiratory function.
⦁ Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose): Enhances circulation and respiration.
⦁ ArdhaMatsyendrasana (Sitting Half Spinal Twist): Stimulates the heart and improves the flexibility of the spine.
⦁ Pavanamuktasana (Wind Relieving Pose): Aids in releasing digestive gases and improves metabolism, indirectly supporting heart health.
⦁ Savasana (Corpse Pose): Known for its deep relaxation effects, it helps reduce stress and can lower blood pressure.
Pranayama or breathing techniques can be useful in controlling breathing that can play a crucial role in managing stress and thus in heart health.
Some effective breathing exercises include:
⦁ AnulomVilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing): This is known to have a calming effect on the nervous system and can help balance blood pressure.
⦁ Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath): Has a soothing effect and can help reduce blood pressure.
⦁ Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breath): Its rhythmic pattern can enhance cardiovascular function and aid in stress relief.
⦁ Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling Breath): Can lower blood pressure and calm the mind.
⦁ Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Breath): Encourages full oxygen exchange and is deeply relaxing for the autonomic nervous system.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can decrease stress and has been associated with reduced heart rate and blood pressure.
Techniques can include:
⦁ Guided meditation: Following a guided meditation can be easier for beginners.
⦁ Mindfulness meditation: Focuses on the present moment, which can reduce stress and anxiety.
⦁ Yoga Nidra: Yoga Nidra or "yogic sleep" is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, and it is a powerful relaxation technique for the mind and body.
⦁ Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): Involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups, which can help in lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
⦁ Visualization: Picturing calming scenes or experiences can help reduce blood pressure and heart rate, offering cardiovascular benefits.
How beginners should approach Yoga for heart health
Start slowly: For beginners, it’s important to start slowly to avoid any strain or injury. Begin with basic postures and gradually increase the complexity and duration of the practice.
Consistency is key: Regular practice yields better results. Even a short daily session is more beneficial than a longer session done infrequently.
Listen to your body: While practicing yoga, listen to your body’s signals. If a posture or breathing exercise causes discomfort, ease off or consult with a yoga instructor for modifications.
Seek professional guidance: It’s advisable to practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor, especially for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.
Combine with other lifestyle changes: Yoga should be part of a broader lifestyle change that includes a balanced diet, regular aerobic exercise, and stress management for optimal heart health.
Avoid high-intensity practices if not suitable: Some high-intensity yoga practices may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with heart disease. Practices like hot Yoga or power Yoga should be approached with caution.
Stay hydrated: Maintaining hydration is important, especially when practicing yoga that increases perspiration.
Integrate with medical care: Yoga practice should complement traditional medical care for those with heart conditions. Always discuss with healthcare providers before starting a new yoga practice.
"By including these yoga practices and tips in daily life, individuals can support their heart health effectively. It’s worth noting that while yoga can significantly benefit cardiovascular health, it should not replace conventional medical treatment for existing heart conditions. It’s best to view yoga as a complementary approach to a heart-healthy lifestyle," concludes Dr Indranill.