If you have high cholesterol, one of the lifestyle changes you might want to consider when working out to lower your levels is starting a workout program. While many doctors suggest brisk walks or resistance training, regular yoga can also improve your cholesterol levels. You can practice in an online class, in a studio with a group, or at home for free.
The effect of yoga on cholesterol
Biologically, exercise improves things that affect cholesterol. “The idea here is that yoga can be a lot like aerobics and resistance exercise. These types of exercises have a well-established benefit on cholesterol, ”says Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who studies the effects of healthy lifestyle behaviors on cardiometabolic disease.
“We know there are anti-inflammatory effects. Exercise can lower low density lipoproteins, and it probably has the greatest effect on triglycerides. And then it also has the great advantage of increasing high density lipoproteins. The overall changes in the cholesterol profile are all good.
There is currently little research on the link between yoga and lipid levels in particular. But there’s more data on how it affects other things that impact high cholesterol.
“Yoga isn’t that magic pill that you take, and then you get all of these benefits,” says Sally Sherman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who studies the health effects of yoga. But she notes that this indirectly leads to desirable effects. For example, “We know that yoga improves sleep. And (this) can really serve as a pathway for many other health benefits. A lot of those benefits, she says, actually show up in things like lowered cholesterol.
In one study, Sherman found that the energy expenditure for Vinyasa yoga mirrored that of moderate to intense training, such as brisk walking. Physical activity at this level has many health benefits that could affect your cholesterol levels:
What type of yoga is the best?
But to get the most out of yoga, it’s important to practice a certain style. Vinyasa is one of the many forms of the discipline that combines deep breathing and movement. “We know that for optimal health, as adults, we need moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week,” says Sherman. “Even done slowly in a slow flow… Vinyasa yoga meets (these) requirements.”
How to add yoga to your routine
Experts suggest that adults between the ages of 19 and 64 get physical activity every day. They recommend that the average adult get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. Vinyasa yoga can help you achieve these weekly goals.
If you want to start yoga as a physical activity to improve your cholesterol levels, it is important that you always follow your regular treatment schedule. Do not stop taking your cholesterol medication unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
It is also important to keep your healthcare team informed when you start yoga classes. “And that’s for two different reasons,” Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, subject matter expert for the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s training programs in obesity intervention and weight management in adults. “One is to make sure it’s safe for you to engage in an activity, in general. But also, to talk about the activity options available and what might be best for you. And it could be yoga.
If you are new to yoga, it is a good idea to find a certified instructor online or in person to help lead your classes. “When it comes to any type of activity, especially a new activity, we worry about any improper form or pushing you beyond what your body is really ready for,” says Tewksbury. “Having a professional there to guide you, even if it’s just a start, can be very beneficial. “
The yoga lifestyle and cholesterol
After doing yoga as a means of exercise for a while, many people may want to adapt other elements of the practice to their lifestyle.
“People are starting to make other changes in their lives,” Sherman says. “And one of the things yoga teaches is a plant-based diet. This is because it is the diet that creates less harm. It’s healthier for the body and we have the data to prove it now. Plant-based diets are prescribed for many things, from Alzheimer’s disease to cholesterol.
When people adopt a plant-based diet, they often consume fewer calories throughout the day. Combined with yoga exercise, this can lead to slight weight loss. “While 5, 10, or 15 pounds might not seem like a big weight or a significant change, for a person’s cholesterol level it has a huge impact,” says Tewksbury.
When you start to rely on a plant-based diet, you are also removing certain components from meat and dairy products that could be bad for your cholesterol. Tewksbury points out that saturated fat plays a role in cholesterol levels and is mostly found in animal products. When people cut or cut back on some of these food items, they “tend to start reducing their intake of saturated fat, which can lead to lower cholesterol levels,” she says.
Tewksbury also notes that eating more soluble fiber, such as oats or plant sterols, also helps improve cholesterol. “This is because these soluble fibers help bind to cholesterol to help remove them from the body,” she says.
Whether you are looking to adapt yoga as a lifestyle or just add it to spice up your workout routine, the practice has many benefits. “There is mindfulness that is taught on the yoga mat,” Sherman says. “It permeates life off the rug.”