You sweated your way through a yoga class, and want to know
if you can skip the extra treadmill session. A new review by the European
Journal of Preventive Cardiology concludes that there is “emerging evidence
to support a role for yoga in improving common modifiable risk factor of cardiovascular
disease (CVD) and metabolic syndrome.” Yoga could have an impact on
cardiovascular health the same way that cardiovascular exercise does.
Why You Should Do Cardio
Aerobic exercise (sustained activity that elevates your
heart rate) measures how efficiently your heart moves blood (and therefore
oxygen) to the muscles. People with higher levels of cardiovascular fitness are
more likely to avoid heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers. Cardio
workouts have also been linked to mental sharpness and less short-term memory
Does Your Yoga Practice Count?
Whether we’re talking about running or yoga, the key
components are intensity,
duration and frequency. The best way to gauge whether or not you should
count your yoga practice as cardiovascular exercise is by asking yourself how
intense your workout is, how long your workout is, and how often you work out. If
you’re taking an occasional gentle yoga class, you’ll reap the mind-body
benefits but not necessarily the cardio benefits. If, on the other hand, you’re
taking more rigorous classes that get your heart rate up (likely ones with lots
of Sun Salutations or other vigorous, flowing movements), and you’re taking
these classes more often, you may be getting cardiovascular benefits as well.
Take It to the Next Level
Vinyasa (or flow) yoga is designed to keep your heart
rate up and it’s possible to burn up to 400 calories in a 90-minute class. If
you’re practicing this type of yoga at home and want to feel the cardiovascular
effects, try warming up with a Sun Salutation and then do a sequence of Warrior
II, Plank, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior III,
Plank, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog, Boat, Plank
Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog. Performing sequences like
this will help you to quickly work up a sweat.
Another surefire way to get the benefits of a heart-pumping
aerobic workout is to infuse your regular yoga workout with bursts of cardio or
to look for a group class or workout video that crosses yoga with some form of
cardio. Quick burst of cardio are no joke: a 2011 study presented at the American
College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting showed that two weeks of
high-intensity interval training had the same impact on aerobic capacity as six
to eight weeks of endurance training.
One of the best ways to feel the burn is to take a class
that’s inspired by yoga but also includes lots of cardio. Check out this video
which combines power yoga moves with cardio intervals and Kundalini Kriyas (spontaneous
yoga positions). Many gyms and fitness centers also feature classes that
combine yoga moves with more vigorous forms of aerobics.
When Cardio Is a No-Go
And what if you’re unable to perform traditional
cardiovascular activities? For risk factor reduction, researchers found that
yoga may have the same benefits as biking or brisk walking – though one caveat
is that this could be more due to yoga’s impact on stress reduction.
If you’re looking to increase your cardiovascular fitness
and don’t want to drop your yoga habit, variety may be key. Combine yoga and
cardio together. Infuse your practice with bursts of heart-pumping aerobics.
Stick to the more vigorous, flowing forms of yoga to keep your heart rate up. Try
new classes. You’ll be fitter in no time.