May 26, 2015
Dr. Stacy D. Hunter, PhD
In support of High Blood Pressure Education Month, we’ve decided to share some tidbits on what research says about yoga in the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension is defined as having a resting systolic blood pressure at or above 140 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure at or above 90 mmHg. Slightly over half of the cases of hypertension in the US are uncontrolled and many are often unaware when they have this insidious disease known as the “silent killer” due to its inconspicuous nature. Hypertension can exist in the absence of signs and symptoms and can lead to stroke, atrial fibrillation (a cardiac arrhythmia in which the upper chambers of the heart fail to contract intermittently), organ and blood vessel damage and heart failure.
Diet modifications (e.g., reduced salt intake), moderate exercises like walking, swimming or cycling at least 30 minutes per day 5 days per week, stress management, limitation of alcohol intake, avoidance of smoking and of course, pharmaceutical therapies might all be recommended by your physician in the prevention or treatment of this disease. Although some might even suggest yoga, this alternative therapy is still not widely accepted or recommended in the healthcare field.
There is growing evidence of yoga’s effectiveness in improving blood pressure control in both those with and without hypertension. Vinyasa, Iyengar and Hatha yoga styles have all been effective in improving blood pressure with 8 to 12 weeks of practice according to research. These benefits can, however, be experienced in shorter time frames as a study done in Thailand demonstrated a blood pressure lowering effect with just two weeks of practice in patients with hypertension. In fact, a recent study showed that just one Bikram or hot yoga class reduced blood pressures over the next 24 hours in adults with normal and slightly elevated (pre-hypertensive) blood pressure values.
These benefits are not limited to the physical or hatha yoga practices. A line a research devoted to the study of pranayama has unveiled cardiovascular health benefits of these ancient breathing practices also. Single sessions of slow breathing at 6 breaths per minute (half of the normal rate of 12 per minute) have an immediate blood pressure lowering effect in adults with hypertension according to a study led by Pure Action Advisory Council member, Dr. Luciano Bernardi, MD, of the University of Pavia. Taking it a step further, the research team also found improvements in baroreflex sensitivity, a key physiological controller of blood pressure located at different sites within the vascular tree.
The amount of a reduction in blood pressure with yoga practice varies by study and yoga style according to a review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Of the 22 studies reviewed, yoga decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressures by 4 and 3 on average, respectively. This might seem insubstantial to some, but might represent a difference between normal and prehypertensive for those with slightly elevated blood pressures.
While often not included in physical activity recommendations, yoga is an increasingly studied modality with now more documentation than ever on its cardiovascular health benefits. We believe it’s only a matter of time until this alternative exercise modality will gain acceptance across a broader range of healthcare professionals and eventually health insurance companies. Until then, we at Pure Action are committed to funding more research studies and sharing existing information with the masses. If you’re interested in submitting a study proposal request for funding, visit our research page for application details.
Yang K, Bernardo SM, Sereika SM, Conroy MB, Balk J and Burke LE. Utilization of a 3-month yoga program for adults at high risk for type 2 diabetes: a pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2009.
Cohen DL, et al. Iyengar yoga versus enhanced usual care on blood pressure in patients with prehypertension to stage I hypertension: a randomized controlled trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2009.
Cade WT, et al. Yoga lifestyle intervention reduces blood pressure in HIV-infected adults with cardiovascular disease risk factors. HIV Medicine, 11(6): 379-88, 2010.
McCaffrey R, Ruknui P, Hatthakit U and Kasetsomboon P. The effects of yoga on hypertensive persons in Thailand. Holistic Nursing Practices.
Chaco N et al. Slow breathing improves arterial baroreflex sensitivity and decreases blood pressure in essential hypertension. Hypertension, 46: 714-18, 2005.
Hagins M, States R, Selfe T and Innes K. Effectiveness of yoga for hypertension: systematic review and meta-analysis. 2013.