The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology published a review of 37 randomized controlled trials which included 2,768 people, measuring the benefits of yoga compared with exercise and no physical activity.
These trials were conducted with styles of yoga which included movement that “could be considered more rigorous.”
Eva Norlyk Smith PhD reports here on the report, noting that it “offers some of the strongest evidence so far that yoga as a stand-alone practice may indeed be effective therapy for cardiovascular health… The cumulative evidence across these studies indicated that yoga may be as effective in reducing risk factors for heart disease as traditional physical activities such as biking or brisk walking.”
When compared to no exercise, yoga was found to reduce BMI (Body Mass Index), lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.
While the report explained that ” the mechanism behind the therapeutic effect of yoga for cardiovascular disease is still unclear,” it also noted yoga’s impact on stress, “which in turn leads to improvements in neuroendocrine, metabolic and cardio-vagal functions, and related inflammatory responses.” (source)
For those with preexisting conditions or pain, yoga may be more accessible than some forms of cardiovascular exercise such as cycling, for example.