Does Yoga Provide Enough of a Cardio Workout?

by Ivy Markaity Patient Expert

While, doing my research for this blog I have come across many heated debates on this topic. Since more and more people are practicing and enjoying yoga as their sole source of exercise, they wonder if yoga is enough to keep them fit. They wonder if they should augment their practice with cardiovascular training. Many in the yoga community have long believed that yoga is enough to keep you fit and others, mainly in the medical and fitness community, have argued that yoga does not work the heart enough.

Cardio respiratory fitness refers to the fitness of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The better your cardio respiratory fitness, the better your stamina, the lower your risk for a host of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Cardiovascular exercise is defined as a repetitive, rhythmical exercise involving large muscle groups. According to the College of Sports Medicine, it should involve pushing your heart rate to 60% to 90% of its maximum, and keeping it there for 20 to 60 minutes at a time.

Yoga is a wonderful adjunct to many other sports training as it keep the muscles supple, prevents injury, improves breath control, and focuses the mind. But, is it enough in and of itself to address all aspects of fitness including cardio respiratory fitness? Until recently, few scientists had considered whether yoga could improve many different aspects of fitness. Recent studies, though preliminary, show that yoga also improves strength, aerobic capacity, and lung function.

Yoga Journal published an article entitled "Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit"? The article recounts this story. John Schumacher, 52-year-old yoga teacher from the D.C. area was convinced that yoga was enough to keep you fit and was tired of hearing otherwise. He set out to prove his point. He signed up for physiological testing. The results, as he expected, found Schumacher near the top of his age group for a variety of fitness tests, including maximum heart and exercise recovery rates. Yoga Journal's testing of three yogis also yielded impressive results.

One of the first studies done in the United States that examines the relationship between yoga and fitness, researchers at the University of California at Davis recently tested the muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardio respiratory fitness, body composition, and lung function of 10 college students before and after eight weeks of yoga training. Each week, the students attended four sessions that included 10 minutes of pranayama, 15 minutes of warm-up exercises, 50 minutes of asanas, and 10 minutes of meditation. After eight weeks, the students' muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 188 percent, and VO2max by 7 percent-a very respectable increase, given the brevity of the experiment.

If a person wants to get fit, then yes, yoga can be the answer. Many people around the globe practice yoga as their main source of fitness. The five areas of fitness are body composition, muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. In dynamic styles of yoga such as Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and Flow all areas of fitness are getting addressed. If you already practice yoga and have been told that you need to add something else to your regimen to keep you fit than rest assured there is enough evidence to prove that yoga is all you need for a fit mind and body.

However, your level of fitness will depend on the following:
The levels of fitness that you achieve through yoga will not only depend on the style of yoga you choose but also on the frequency with which you practice as well as the length of your practice. If you practice 15 minutes of gentle yoga stretches three or four times a week, you will also need to do some other form of exercise to stay fit. You might want to pair your yoga practice with walking, biking, running, dancing, elliptical machines etc... or increase your yoga time, style or frequency. Studies done on yoga have included more than an hour of practice two to four days a week. The yoga sessions included breath work and meditation in addition to typical yoga poses. Finally, the asanas used in these studies included not just aerobically challenging sequences, like Sun Salutations, but also many strengthening poses.

In my humble opinion, the best exercise is the one you love, the one you will do regularly and stick with. So, if you are happy with your yoga practice and don't enjoy other activities then by all means continue to practice and enjoy it However, if you enjoy running, walking, hiking, biking, dancing, or any other form of cardiovascular training then add that into the mix! Yoga is a philosophy that promotes self-expression and personal choice. After seven years of practicing yoga solely, I felt the need to move my body in different ways. I began to take Salsa and Tango dance classes. In the last couple of years in addition to having a regular yoga practice I have continued to dance, enjoy biking, elliptical machines and light weight training.

As well as fitness, yoga offers many other advantages. It improves your overall health, reduces your level of stress, combats insomnia, increases energy, and elevates your mood and general outlook, which can improve many other areas of your life.

References: Yoga Journal

Ivy Markaity
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Ivy Markaity

Ivy wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Fitness & Exercise.