Doing yoga may be a good way to protect against heart disease, particularly if you cannot do more vigorous exercise, research suggests.
A review in the Netherlands of 37 studies involving nearly 3,000 people found yoga was independently linked to a lowering of heart risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Yoga does not count towards the recommended physical activity that we should all do each week.
Experts say it may still be beneficial.
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing.
There are lots of different types of yoga – tantric, Hatha and Ashtanga to name a few – but most are not strenuous enough to count towards the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity the government says we should get each week to give our heart and lungs a workout.
Yoga does count as a muscle strengthening exercise – something the same guidelines say we should do on two or more days a week, every week.
Prof Myriam Hunink, from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, set out to investigate what effect, if any, yoga might have on heart health.
Compared with no exercise, yoga had significant benefits – it was linked to a lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reports.
When pitched against other types of exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging, yoga was no better or worse based on the same measures of heart risk.
Prof Hunink said: “These results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.”
It is not clear why yoga might be beneficial, but experts say it could be down to its calming effect. Stress has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The benefits could be due to working the muscles and breathing, which can bring more oxygen into the body, leading to lower blood pressure.
“A larger study is recommended though to assess the effects of yoga more fully.”
She said the benefits of yoga on emotional health were well-established.