It’s called “hot” yoga because it’s practiced in sweltering temperatures. Some research has hinted that it might improve heart health more than traditional yoga, but a new study suggests that adding heat to your yoga doesn’t boost its cardiac benefits.
“We were surprised by the result that a non-heated practice seemed to have the same benefit on vascular health as the heated practice,” admitted study author Stacy Hunter. Hunter is an assistant professor of exercise and sports science at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX.
“Previous research documented reductions in cardiovascular disease risk with sauna therapy alone,” Hunter explained. “So we thought that the heated yoga would cause a greater response and have more benefit.”
The researchers noted Bikram yoga has a global following and entails running through a sequence of 26 standard yoga poses in 105-degree heat.
At issue was whether Bikram yoga invigorated a process known as vasodilation, Hunter said. Vasodilation is associated with the production of nitric oxide, which helps to ward off inflammation. As such, vigorous vasodilation may ultimately slow or delay hardening of the arteries.
In an earlier study, Hunter’s team found that middle-aged Bikram yoga participants experienced increased vasodilation. But, the question remained: Was the increase sparked by the high-temperature environment of Bikram? Or, could increased vasodilation also happen when performing yoga in normal temperatures.
To answer that question, the investigators focused on 52 sedentary but healthy adults aged 40 to 60.
Study participants were randomly assigned to one of three different groups. One group practiced Bikram in a hot environment; a second group practiced yoga in a room that was 73 degrees.
For three months, the two groups engaged in three 90-minute yoga classes per week. Also, the researchers measured each participant’s vasodilation levels.
In the end, investigators determined that both Yoga groups achieved similar improvements in their vasodilation levels, regardless of room temperature. Seniors who are drawn to the potential heart health benefits of hot yoga might find this interesting, especially if they are leery of exposure to excessive heat.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, co-director of the UCLA Preventative Cardiology Program in Los Angeles, cautioned there is no solid evidence to suggest that any form of yoga offers a leg up when it comes to heart health.
“There are multiple factors that can impact vascular dilation. These factors don’t necessarily translate to a reduction in cardiovascular events. These findings are not sufficient in reaching a conclusion regarding potential benefits of hot yoga and heart health,” Fonarow said.
“Individuals interested in improving heart and vascular health should follow evidence-based recommendations,” he added.
These recommendations include physical activity, healthy diet, maintaining healthy body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and not smoking
There’s more on yoga and heart health at the American Heart Association.