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6 Hidden Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has something for everyone: Fitness fanatics love it because it helps you build lean muscle mass and improve flexibility, while others are into its mental benefits, like less stress and improved focus. (Learn more about Your Brain On: Yoga). And now, research reveals there’s even more to love about the exercise—like the fact that it can help your heart.

While yoga isn’t thought of as a cardio workout, the practice is actually as good for your heart as aerobic exercises like brisk walking or biking, according to a new report in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Researchers found that both types of activities reducee BMI, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate, four key markers of heart health. 

And that’s just the beginning. If you're not already a regular yogi, these six other benefits will inspire you to dust off your mat and get om-ing.

It Boosts Things in the Bedroom
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After practicing an hour of yoga a day for 12 weeks, women reported improvements in their sexual desire and arousal, lubrication, ability to orgasm, and overall satisfaction between the sheets, a study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine reports. Read more about Why Yogis Are Better in Bed, then try the 10 moves that make up our Better Sex Workout

It Quells Food Cravings
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Yogis tend to gain less weight over time than their peers, likely because the exercise teaches you mindfulness skills—like mindful breathing—that can be applied to eating as well, according to researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle. Once you’ve built the mental willpower to maintain taxing poses (crow, anyone?) with a calm mind and steady breath, you can use that fortitude to get past cupcake cravings as well. (In the meantime, here are some other ways to Fight Food Cravings Without Going Crazy.)

It Revs Your Immunity
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Within just two hours of practicing yoga, your genes start to change, according to research from the University of Oslo. Specifically, it "turns on" 111 genes that help regulate your immune cells. To compare, other relaxation exercises like walking or listening to music result in changes in just 38 genes.

It Makes Migraines Less Frequent
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After three months of yoga practice, migraine patients experienced fewer episodes—and the headaches they did get were less painful, according to research in the journal Headache. They also used meds less often and felt less anxious or depressed. (Try these poses to Naturally Relieve a Headache with Yoga.)

It Eases PMS Cramps
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Three specific poses—Cobra, Cat, and Fish—were found to significantly reduce the severity of young women’s menstrual cramps, according to Iranian research. The study participants performed the exercise during the luteal phase, or the one or two weeks between ovulation (which occurs mid-way through your cycle) and the start of their period.

It Stops Embarrassing Leaks
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Another “down there” problem yoga can treat: urinary incontinence. In one study, women who took part in a yoga program designed to target the pelvic floor muscles experienced a 70 percent reduction in the frequency of their leaks. And remember: You're not alone. Plenty of women experience incontinence, especially after giving birth. Read about what you can do if you leak in the gym or while running.

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