Don’t let the lack of “symptoms” fool you - hypertension is a very real and prevalent danger to many people. In fact, an estimated 1 out of 3 adults over 20 in the U.S. has high blood pressure according to the American Heart Association. Without monitoring and treatment, chronic high blood pressure can damage your heart and vascular system, increasing your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and a host of other conditions.
When it comes to tackling hypertension, the good news is that diet modifications and routine exercise can have a significant impact in preventing and potentially reversing it. That is where yoga practice comes into play:
Yoga as Moderate-Intensity Exercise
The practice of yoga provides a low-impact fitness solution that is fairly accessible to almost anyone. For people struggling with hypertension, moderate intensity exercise that gets the heart rate up and has you breaking a sweat is an important way to strengthen the heart. A stronger heart requires less effort to pump blood throughout your system, thus helping lower high blood pressure.
Results published in a May 2017 pilot study revealed that participants who practiced yoga daily for one hour for an entire month experienced positive decreases in their blood pressure and body mass index. Exercise must be completed routinely, however, to see its greatest benefits - at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This may be possible by combining yoga with other low-impact activities during the week like swimming, cycling, or dancing.
Yoga as Stress Reliever
In addition to poor diet, inactivity, and other risk factors including smoking and excessive drinking, high blood pressure can result, if even temporarily, from stress. When your body feels stressed it produces extra stress hormones (cortisol) and actually constricts blood vessels. Thus, increasing the pressure needed to flow blood throughout your body.
Yoga’s meditation and deep breathing components play an important role in helping induce deep relaxation and reducing central nervous system activity, which, in turn, combats stress and fights anxiety. A 2017 meta-analysis examining blood pressure response to meditation and yoga, found that both practices demonstrated to be effective alternatives to pharmacotherapy in reducing high blood pressure levels.
Yoga for Body Awareness
Key yogic principles include kindness, truthfulness, nonviolence, peace, and self-awareness. That last one may have the greatest effect on people as they carry those foundations of yoga into other areas of their life. Being more mind-body aware can positively impact everything from your relationships to what you eat.
As diet is such a critical part of fighting high blood pressure, eating healthier as a result of practicing yoga can boost your own physical health and wellness. Beneficial diet modifications include limiting sodium intake and increasing consumption of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean meats.
Yoga for Flexibility
Your arteries’ elasticity can impact how hard the heart must pump blood through them, and as people age and don’t eat as well as they should (or exercise as much as they should), arteries can actually stiffen. Researchers have found that for people over the age of 40, their own muscular flexibility (i.e. being able to sit and touch their toes with their hands), can be used to assess arterial stiffness.
Yoga practice enhances flexibility and balance by helping stretch and strengthen key muscle groups, as well as lengthen and align the spine. Yoga straps and blocks can be used to optimize practice for even greater flexibility and range of motion.
Yoga is not the ultimate and only solution to high blood pressure. However, it can represent a positive punch when it comes to your physical health. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, strike up a dialogue with your doctor about the benefits of starting a new yoga routine, but remember, never replace prescribed medicine with yoga practice without first consulting your doctor.
Depending on your fitness level, age, mobility, and health condition, the type of yoga practice you pursue may vary - make sure to find a knowledgeable instructor who can tailor it to your needs and abilities, and who understands the background on your condition.
Want to kick-start a healthier life? Go on a health and yoga retreat and learn how to live better!
Read more by Joe Fleming at ViveHealth.com