Yoga reduces the risk of heart disease, according to a new meta-analysis of dozens of studies.

Cardiovascular disease was found to be less common among people who practice yoga than those who do not, according to an international group of researchers. A total of 37 controlled trials, involving 2,768 subjects, were examined by investigators. They found that yoga can provide many of the same health benefits as traditional core exercise or brisk walking.

All of the primary risk factors for heart disease were found to be improved in people practicing yoga. The body mass index (BMI) of practitioners were reduced, along with blood pressure, heart rate, and concentrations of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Good cholesterol, or HDL, was increased in yogis and yoginis, the meta-analysis found.  

Yoga practice was found to be especially useful at reducing risk factors when combined with medicine, even among subjects diagnosed with heart disease before undertaking the practice.

Regular sessions of yoga were found to be just as effective as aerobic exercise at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers believe this could be due to stress reduction and improvements to the health of neuroendocrine cells in the brain, as well as better heart health.

Yoga has been practiced for centuries as a means of maintaining health of mind and body. But, scientific studies have yet to determine the percentage of benefits due to physical changes, compared to psychological effects.

"Also unclear are the dose-response relationship and the relative costs and benefits of yoga when compared to exercise or medication. However, these results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice," Myriam Hunink of Erasmus University Medical Center in Holland and the Harvard School of Public Health said.

One of the studies examined by researchers also found a positive link between yoga and smoking cessation.

Historians believe yoga likely first developed in the fifth or sixth century before the common era. The practice first came to the western world through the work of Swami Vivekananda. In the 1980's, yoga first became popular among people of the United States and western Europe.

"[Y]oga has the potential to be a cost-effective treatment and prevention strategy given its low cost, lack of expensive equipment or technology, potential greater adherence and health-related quality of life improvements, and possible accessibility to larger segments of the population," researchers stated in an article announcing the results of their meta-analysis.

The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, detailing the research, was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology

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