Can practicing yoga lead to lower cholesterol levels? The science looks promising.
Yoga can help lower stress levels. Yoga involves deep breathing, which can help with relaxation. Reducing stress may help with heart health, and helps promote healthy digestion through twisting postures.
But the results can vary from person-to-person. Your medical history, for example, may affect how beneficial yoga is for you.
Read on to learn more about the connection between yoga and cholesterol, and if yoga can be safe for you to try.
There are a limited number of studies that have examined the connection between yoga and cholesterol levels. But the studies that do exist see a correlation.
Overall, more research is needed on a larger scale to make a significant conclusion that yoga is effective for lowering cholesterol. The studies that do exist so far are small, but promising.
Individuals who participated in yoga for 3 months, in addition to taking oral hypoglycemic drugs, showed a decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (low density lipoproteins). They also showed improvement in HDL (high density lipoproteins).
A 2014 study review found yoga to be effective to improve LDL and HDL cholesterol and blood pressure compared to doing no exercise. But the researchers were limited in their scope and size of studies they reviewed.
If you’re interested in incorporating yoga into your wellness routine, try the moves below. They may help with your cholesterol levels. But always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Seated forward bend
This move may help with digestion, and reduce stress.
- Start in a seated position with your legs straight out in front of you. You may sit up on a blanket or folded towel.
- Inhale and lengthen your spine.
- Exhale and slowly start to bend over your legs. Try to move from the hips and not the waist. Your back should be flat and your head should be upright. Stop folding if your back starts to feel any pain.
- Breathe as you continue to reach in the direction of your feet or ankles, going only as far is comfortable for you.
- Hold the pose 1 to 3 minutes, depending on your comfort level.
This move helps reduce stress and allows for deep relaxation.
- Start in a kneeling position, sitting back toward your feet.
- Separate your knees as wide as your hips and lay your torso down between your thighs.
- Keep your arms resting alongside your torso, palms facing up. Or extend the arms out in front with your palms down against the mat.
- Inhale and exhale freely.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Seated spinal twist
This move may encourage healthy digestion.
- Begin seated upright with the left leg bent on the floor with the heel by your right hip and the right leg crossed over the left, sole of the right foot on the floor.
- Elongate your spine as you extend your left hand up to the ceiling.
- Start to twist toward the right, ending with your left elbow outside your right knee.
- Inhale to find more length and exhale to deepen the twist.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch to the other side.
A more advanced pose, wheel is better suited to experienced yogis. Your spine should be warmed up before doing wheel pose. Wheel pose may help with opening and strengthening the body.
- Start lying on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent, hip distance apart. Arms should be stretched out on the floor next to the body, fingertips grazing your heels.
- Take your hands and place them under your shoulders, pressing them into your mat. Keep your elbows drawn in.
- Press down into your feet and hands and inhale as you press up, first to the top of your head and pause. Plug your arm bones back into your shoulder socket.
- Push into your arms and lift up into full wheel. Your arms may be bent if you’re new to the pose. Keep lifting your chest as you relax your head.
- Take a few deep breaths. When you’re ready to come down, walk your feet forward. Tuck your chin into your chest and slowly roll down your spine one vertebrae at a time.
- Bring your knees together, feet wide for a few breaths.
- Repeat up to 3 times if you wish.
Legs up the wall
This pose helps with blood flow to the heart. It may also help reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and help with a variety of other health conditions.
- Move your yoga mat up to the wall. Sit to the side with your shoulder against the wall to get into the correct positioning.
- Lie down on your back on your mat with your legs extended up the wall. Scoot yourself closer as needed.
- Stay in this inverted position for 1-2 minutes or as long as you’re comfortable. Breathe in and out.
- When you’re ready to come down, slowly walk your legs down the wall and bring your knees into your chest.
- Rock side to side a few times and release.
You may also want to try the following alternative treatments to lower cholesterol. You can try them along with yoga if you wish.
- Eat more fish: Choosing omega-3 rich fish up to three times a week may reduce your risk for heart disease. Eat fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna for best results.
- Try plant sterol and stanol supplements: These supplements may help prevent the small intestine from absorbing cholesterol and lower LDL levels.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseed is full of Omega-3 fatty acids and may help boost HDL levels. Use the oil when cooking, or eat ground flaxseed.
- Exercise: Try to incorporate other forms of heart-boosting exercise such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Never start an exercise routine without asking your doctor first.
If you suspect or know you have high cholesterol, you should always work with your doctor. They can prepare a treatment plan that’s safe for you.
It may include exercise, a modified diet, and/or medication. Yoga therapy should always be done with your doctor’s permission.
You shouldn’t substitute medications or other lifestyle changes for yoga. Instead, ask your doctor if it’s safe to practice yoga in addition to your other treatments.
Although more research is needed to determine the exact impact of yoga on cholesterol levels, studies look promising. If you enjoy yoga, there’s likely no harm to adding it to your cholesterol-lowering routine — just get your doctor’s permission first.
Along with a healthy plant-based diet and your prescribed medications, yoga therapy can be a great complement to your wellness routine. Work with your doctor to create a personalized plan for your health.
Yoga should never be used as a substitute for your medications. You should also consult a doctor before starting a new exercise program.