We’ve talked before about how gentle exercise assists weight loss. In fact, exercising too much can be counterproductive when you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, since you don’t want to break down muscle which helps your metabolism burn more calories.
What you eat is of primary importance in weight control, so trying to “exercise off” a bad diet doesn’t work well. Once you do get new, healthier eating habits consistently in place, it’s certainly worth considering how you can add more activity to your routine. While exercise might not be the key to losing weight, it’s absolutely important to build some regular activity into your lifestyle to keep weight off long term. That’s where weight management and yoga might come in.
There hasn’t been a lot of scientific study of yoga and weight management. Most of the information we have is experiential or anecdotal, yet many people report that taking up a regular practice of yoga has helped them lose weight and keep it off. This doesn’t have to be strenuous or “hot” yoga either – even the gentlest forms seem to help.
Why Does Yoga Assist Weight Management?
1 – Improving Metabolism
Yoga offers gentle exercise which stretches and builds muscles, increasing strength throughout the body. More muscle means you burn more calories at rest – your metabolism is on your side. The whole-body muscle movements of yoga also provide circulatory stimulation to your body.
Of course, even gentle exercise (even exercises you can do sitting down) burns additional calories as well. Yoga is effective at all ages, and can be practiced safely by pregnant women and people with other health challenges. You’ll find it easy to find a beginner’s yoga class here in Hawaii if you’re new to the practice of yoga.
2 – Encouraging Good Nutrition
Many yoga programs also encourage good nutrition. You’re likely to find support for the nutritional lifestyle changes you’re making in a yoga class, both from the instructor and from your classmates.
3 – Supporting Positive Self Image
Yoga tends to support the development of a positive self image. In fact, any exercise program does that to some degree, simply because you know you’re taking action to improve your situation. With yoga, your awareness of your body as a whole improves, and your body acceptance is likely to improve as well.
4 – Fighting Stress and Reducing Stress Hormones
Most importantly, yoga is a stress fighter. Stress hormones, including cortisol, have been proven in research to stimulate weight gain in people who are chronically exposed to stress. In particular, abdominal weight (belly fat) is associated with stress hormones. We’ve discussed in a previous article how meditation can also help reduce belly fat, and some forms of yoga include meditation and breathing practices.
Therefore, practicing yoga, which is a significant stress reducer, should definitely have a beneficial effect on stress hormones, and therefore on reducing weight gain. Although there haven’t been direct scientific studies around this effect, it makes sense that yoga can be a useful component to a long-term weight management program.
5 – Improving Sleep
Reducing stress (and stress hormones) and encouraging relaxation also may help with improving sleep, which is an important factor in weight loss.
What Does the Research Say?
A 2005 paper, published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, found that yoga practice was associated with attenuated weight gain in both men and women. The study reviewed lifestyle information including weight history, physical activity, medical history and diet for 15,500 adults in their 50s over a 10 year period.
In the studies’ results, regular yoga practice was associated with decreased incidence of age-related weight gain. In fact, for study participants who were overweight, the results were even more notable.