Recently, the results from a study we funded at Colorado State University on the caloric expenditure, heart rate and core temperature responses to Bikram yoga have received some media attention. Articles published by Time and Glamour magazines asking whether hot yoga is good for you or for weight loss highlighted the study findings that Bikram yoga is metabolically equivalent to brisk walking to conclude that it is not a good weight loss tool. Providing proof of this, they cite a previous study also done at Colorado State University which showed only modest weight loss with 8 weeks of Bikram yoga practice.
The caloric expenditure study showed that the average number of calories expended during Bikram yoga was 460 for men and 330 for women, numbers which have disappointed some who expected higher values likely due to their perceived effort in class along with the false 500 to 1,000 calorie values published online previously. As mentioned in another article published in The Gaurdian, “No pain, no gain? Getting the most out of exercise,” “…instead of 90 minutes in a nauseatingly hot room some might prefer a gentle jog for half an hour.” Sure, you could burn the same amount of calories jogging or doing the elliptical trainer 30 minutes instead, but the truth is just as yoga in the sweltering heat isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, neither is jogging or doing the elliptical trainer for 30 minutes. Some actually prefer the community aspect as well as the mindfulness component integral to yoga. It’s a good thing we have options.
As to the conclusions made by both Time and Glamour magazines that hot yoga is not good for weight loss, given the existing research on exercise and weight loss, this is no big surprise. The fact is that most studies also show that cardio isn’t good for weight loss when not combined with changes in diet. The American College of Sports Medicine’s position stand on exercise and weight loss, “Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults”1 states that moderate levels of physical activity of any kind are typically ineffective in producing large amounts of weight loss and that most exercise interventions only result in modest 2- to 5-pound reduction in body weight. This small weight loss range is more than quadrupled when diet changes are combined with the exercise program. To clarify, the study cited by Time and Glamour showing modest weight loss with Bikram yoga did not implement any changes in diet along with the yoga program.
The question of whether hot yoga is good for you was also not adequately addressed as only one of the now 7 published studies was cited. Here’s what we currently know about the scientifically documented health benefits of Bikram yoga: Bikram yoga improves strength2,3, balance2 and flexibility3,4, results in modest weight loss2,5 and small reductions in body fat percentage3, improves glucose tolerance5 and insulin resistance4, lowers cholesterol levels4, improves vascular function4 and sleep quality6, enhances bone density7, and reduces perceived stress8. There’s a lot more to it than just modest amounts of weight loss when you look at the whole picture.
While we regret that the Time and Glamour magazine contributors didn’t provide a better perspective on the data that emerged from the studies at Colorado State University, we are also very grateful that the results are being dispersed to the public via these highly reputable media outlets. The yoga industry while flooded with opinions and testimonials is lacking in scientific evidence, which is where we come in. Our goal in starting Pure Action was to fill in this gap and change the existing opinion- and testimonial-driven dialogue to one in which claims are substantiated with hard facts. This includes dispelling certain myths about yoga such as the 1,000-calorie Bikram yoga class and others. We do realize that change is not always well received initially, but believe we’re off to a great start. If you’d like more information about our currently funded ongoing yoga studies, visit our Funded Projects page.
The blog was posted by Dr. Stacy Hunter, PhD, research director for Pure Action, Inc.
- Donnelly JE, Blair SN, Jakicic JM, et al. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 41: 459-71, 2009.
- Hart CE, Tracy BL. Yoga as steadiness training: effects on motor variability in young adults. J Strength Cond Res. 22(8): 1659-69, 2008.
- Tracy BL, Hart CE. Bikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. J Strength Cond Res. 27(3): 822-30, 2013.
- Hunter SD, Dhindsa M, Cunningham E, Tarumi T, Alkatan M, Nualnim N, Tanaka H. The effect of Bikram yoga on arterial stiffness in young and older adults. J Altern Complement Med. 19(12): 930-4, 2013.
- Hunter SD, Dhindsa M, Cunningham E, Tarumi T, Alkatan M, Tanaka H. Improvements in glucose tolerance with Bikram Yoga in older obese adults: a pilot study. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 17(4): 404-7, 2013.
- Kudesia RS, Bianchi MT. Decreased nocturnal awakenings in young adults performing Bikram yoga: a low constraint sleep monitoring study. ISRN Neurol. 2012:153745. doi: 10.5402/2012/153745. Epub 2012 Apr 12
- Sangiorgio SN, Mukherjee A, Lau NW, Mukherjee A, Mukhopadhyay P, Ebramzadeh E. Optimization of physical activity as a countermeasure of bone loss: a 5-year study of Bikram yoga practice in females. Health. 6(11): Article ID:45729, 2014.
- Hewett ZL, Ransdell LB, Gao Y, Petlichkoff LM, Lucas S. An examination of the effectiveness of an 8-week Bikram yoga program on mindfulness, perceived stress, and physical fitness. J Exerc Sci Fit. 9(2): 87-92, 2011.