Leave it to modern humans, especially Americans, to take an ancient practice of mindfulness, physical exercise and connectedness and turn it into an extreme sport. Sort of.
In this particular case, we may just have created something with real, positive affects on heart health. That’s on top of any other benefits, proven or claimed, for this particular manifestation of an ancient practice.
I’m talking about hot yoga. You know, like other yogas, but in temperatures in the range of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Supposedly, this mimics the heat and humidity of India. Somehow, though, I don’t think India has as many people pulling up to the studio in BMW’s, Subarus and Birkenstocks. But maybe I’m wrong…and I digress.
Hot yoga supporters say it helps rid the body of impurities, elevates metabolism and improves joint health. None of these has been proven by science, of course, but that doesn’t stop millions of people from flexing their credit cards to flex into 105 degree Downward Dogs.
Now, however, we may have found a health benefit that can actually be proven by science. Real science, not bro-science, pseudo-science or yoga science. (Yoga science?)
If the results of a small study conducted by the American Heart Association presented at the 2019 AHA scientific Sessions are reinforced by later and larger studies, hot yoga may take its’ place among other exercise protocols that help lower blood pressure and positively influence heart health.
The researchers involved say this is one of the first studies of hot yoga’s affect on blood pressure. However, they noted that participants showed positive blood pressure results after 3 months of hot yoga sessions.
We already know that room-temperature yoga has positive effects on blood pressure. Until now, we’ve known little about yoga done under hot conditions and blood pressure, researchers say.
“The findings are very preliminary at this point, yet they’re somewhat promising in terms of unveiling another unique way to lower blood pressure in adults without the use of medications,” said Stacy Hunter, Ph.D., study author and assistant professor and lab director of the cardiovascular physiology lab at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. “Hot yoga is gaining popularity, and we’re even seeing other styles of yoga, like Vinyasa and power yoga, being offered in heated studios.”
Hunter and her fellow researchers had small group, just 10 men and women varying in age from 20 to 65 years. Each had either stage 1 hypertension (130 to 139 mmHg systolic/80 to 89 mmHg diastolic pressure) or elevated blood pressure (120 to 129 mmHg systolic/less than 80 mmHg diastolic.) None of the participants were active, having not been involved in a regular program of physical fitness for at least six months prior to the study. Additionally, none were on any type of blood pressure medicines.
Five were assigned to a regimen of hour long hot yoga classes, three times per week for 12 weeks. The others were a control group, taking no yoga classes at all. After 12 weeks, blood pressure average readings were compared using 24-hour blood pressure readings, vascular function and perceived stress for both groups.
The results after 12 weeks?
The hot yoga group saw their systolic blood pressure fall from an average of 126 mmHg at the beginning of the 12 weeks to 121 mmHg after 12 weeks of hot yoga. This group also saw a decrease in diastolic blood pressure from an average 82mmHg to 79 mmHg. All measures were waking, while sleeping pressures did not change.
The control, no yoga group? Nothing. Nada. Zip. No change.
The hot yoga group also reported reduced levels of perceived stress, which the yoga-free group were unable to match. Vascular function didn’t change for either group.
“The results of our study start the conversation that hot yoga could be feasible and effective in terms of reducing blood pressure without medication,” Hunter said. “However, larger studies need to be done before we can say with confidence that hot yoga has a positive impact on blood pressure.”
Hunter does recommend precautions for those who want to add hot yoga as a health activity. Hydrate before arrival, continue to drink water throughout the class and dress appropriately. (You don’t want stuff falling out – my advice, not hers.) Also, avoid over-exertion and be aware of the signs of heat illness. Oh yeah, and check with your doctor before starting.
Apparently, hot yoga has at least one provable benefit. Reduction of blood pressure is good for long-term heart health. So if you’re a fan of hot, sweaty exercise and want a healthier heart, this might be for you!
Keep the faith and keep after it!