Yoga: 10 Benefits Backed by Science

Many people like yoga because it provides them with the peace of mind they miss, especially in this difficult year. If you are skeptical about it, here are 10 benefits of yoga, backed by science, that might convince you to give it a go.

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1. Yoga Increases Body Strength

Yoga is a great exercise to increase strength. It requires you to carry your body weight in various ways or to hold a pose which involves a lot of muscle strength and endurance to stay balanced. In fact, some yoga positions are designed to gain body strength and build muscle, such as plank pose and chair pose.

One study shows that the strength and endurance of 173 participants improved after 12 weeks of yoga practice. Harvard Health Publishing also states that in a study, a small number of sedentary individuals who had never practiced yoga before enhanced their muscle strength and endurance after 8 weeks of practice.

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2. Yoga Helps Getting Rid of Stress

This benefit should not be surprising as yoga has a reputation for encouraging relaxation. Indeed, yoga emphasises on calming the body and mind through a series of movements with controlled breathing and sometimes mediation.

Scientifically, there have been studies proving that yoga can reduce the production of a major stress hormone called cortisol. One of the studies shows that 24 female participants had lower levels of cortisol after a three-month yoga program.

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3. It Improves Quality of Life

Yoga has become a popular option as additional treatment or therapy for all walks of life to improve the quality of life.

In cancer patients, there are studies found out that yoga may help them improve spiritual health, social functioning and mood. A study observed females with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. It shows that while practicing yoga promoted their quality of life, it also helped decrease symptoms of the treatment, such as nausea.

In elderlies, this research divided 135 senior participants into 3 groups, which were assigned to either a 6-month yoga class, walking exercise class, or wait-list control. The results indicate that, compared to the other groups, people in the group with yoga class had their mood, energy, as well as the quality of life in general significantly boosted.

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4. Yoga Helps Easing Chronic Pain

There are different possible causes contributing to chronic pain, such as incorrect posture and arthritis. While chronic pain is a long-term problem that affects many of us, more and more research has proven that yoga could ease, or even eliminate, various types of chronic pain. One study systematically reviewed a range of randomised control trials addressing yoga treatment for chronic low back pain. It concludes that yoga could be practiced safely to reduce pain and disability.

Yoga in general helps correct poor posture, and hence relieve any tension and pain. If you are suffering from chronic neck or back pain, try out these poses for neck pain and these for back pain, preferably under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor!

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5. Yoga Improves Sleep Quality

Having poor sleep quality or not getting sufficient sleep can lead to a lot of problems, such as bad skin and hypertension. Therefore, you need to ensure that you have enough and good sleep every night, which yoga can help.

Researchers from this study randomly allocated 120 residents from an elderly nursing home to either practice yoga, take a herbal substance or be in the control group. The results show that the yoga group demonstrated a remarkable drop in the time taken to fall asleep, growth in the number of hours slept, as well as an improvement in the feeling after a night of sleep. The rest 2 groups, on the other hands, had no significant changes.

You might have trouble sleeping due to stress, chronic pain or other factors, some of them can be improved by yoga, which may also be the reason why yoga can promote sleep quality.

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6. Yoga Relieves Anxiety

As the integration of slow physical movements, controlling breathing and meditation, yoga intends to relax our nervous system, and thus reduce anxiety. Some people start practicing yoga because of this benefit. In fact, quite a few studies are supporting that yoga can relieve anxiety.

In one study, 65 women suffering from anxiety disorders were randomly assigned to either experiment group (participating in yoga classes twice a week for 2 months) or control group (not receiving any yoga classes). After 2 months, the experiment group had a significant decrease in anxiety when comparing to the control group.

Another study argues that yoga has beneficial effects on anxiety based on the results of its experiment. The brain’s gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in participants who practiced 12 weeks of yoga had greater increases than participants who were assigned to walking. Higher GABA levels are associated with lower levels of anxiety.

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7. It Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal immune response. However, chronic inflammation can lead to pro-inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Therefore, reducing inflammation in the body may help prevent such diseases caused by chronic inflammation. There is some research implying that yoga can lessen inflammation, although more studies for verifying such a benefit are needed.

A small-scale study in 2014 shows that 16 individuals who are breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue had decreases in their inflammatory markers after 12 weeks of yoga.

Another study in 2015 divided 218 participants into either yoga group (those who practiced yoga regularly) and non-yoga group (those who did not). Both groups were assigned to a bout of moderate and strenuous exercises. At the end of the study, the yoga group had lower levels of inflammatory markers than the non-yoga group.

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8. It Increases Flexibility and Balance

People who have been practicing yoga for a while probably can already feel the obvious changes in terms of flexibility and balance. Indeed, there are an abundant amount of studies supporting this benefit.

For example, a study in 2014 looked at the effects of yoga and calisthenics (a type of body weight exercise) on 22 and 20 senior individuals respectively. After one year of practicing either yoga or calisthenics, total flexibility of the yoga group enhanced by almost 4 times compared to the calisthenics group.

If you are interested, try to include these poses to your workout routine for a good body stretch!

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9. Yoga Promotes Heart Health

According to Harvard Health Publishing, some studies have found that yoga reduces several cardiovascular risk factors. For example, it can help lower blood pressure and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol that contribute to the development of heart disease. What’s more, another study shows that yoga can significantly lower levels of triglycerides. They are a type of fat found in your blood that can indicate a risk for heart disease when at elevated levels.

So far it is uncertain as to how much yoga contributes to promoting heart health compared to other aspects, such as diet. Still, yoga can give us peace of mind and relieve stress. A high level of stress is one of the most common causes of heart disease.

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10. Yoga Helps Fight Depression

There is some research showing that yoga might help reduce symptoms of depression. One of the reasons could be due to the ability of yoga to minimise levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol influences levels of serotonin (a happiness hormone), which when at low levels, can lead to depression.

A study looked at 28 volunteers with mild levels of depression and no significant yoga experience. It assigned randomly to some of them 5 weeks of yoga classes focusing on yoga poses believed to alleviate depression. At the end of the study, the subjects who participated in the yoga classes demonstrated remarkable decreases in self-evaluated symptoms of depression.

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We the Healthy Matters team recently had a yoga session together in the office. We practiced a modern type of yoga called laughter yoga and our mood lifted immediately : ) Check it out if you want to try a different kind of yoga!

Note: Before you start practicing and if you have any health conditions, it is best to consult your doctor before you begin new physical exercises – talk to him/her just to make sure there is no issue on your side.

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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.