PLAINSBORO, N.J. – Yoga’s health benefits may go beyond stress reduction – a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that for overweight women, restorative yoga may offer a way to actually trim subcutaneous fat.
The benefits of restorative yoga – a form of the practice that emphasizes relaxation over flowing movements or challenging balance poses – compared favorably with simple stretching when tested among a group of women who were clinically obese.
The study’s lead author, Maria G. Araneta, PhD, MPH, of the University of California, San Diego, said researchers examined whether women could lose fat from less intense exercise than aerobic activity. Patients with a BMI of 30 or more, which the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as obese, may have a hard time starting an exercise program, despite their obvious need for physical activity.
Araneta presented results at the 73rd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association in Chicago, according the quarterly edition of Evidence-Based Diabetes Management, a supplement to The American Journal of Managed Care.
Smaller studies had shown other health benefits from yoga to persons at risk of diabetes, but Araneta said no study had specifically measured a loss of fat. A 48-week study comparing two groups, one taking restorative yoga and one performing stretching exercises found that the yoga practitioners lost significantly more subcutaneous fat over the initial six months, and kept losing it afterward. There was no significant loss of visceral fat in either group. Of note:
- Weight: Both groups lost weight, with the restorative yoga group losing more, an average of 1.3 kg at six months compared with 0.7 kg for the stretch group. Significantly, the yoga group maintained the reduction.
- Fat: The restorative yoga group lost more than 2.5 times the amount of subcutaneous fat as the stretch group, and kept losing fat between the six-month mark and the 48-week mark. After six months, the stretch group reversed its progress, regaining almost half its lost fat.
While stretching and body alignment are involved, restorative poses are often performed in a reclined or seated position, with limbs and parts of the torso supported by blankets, pillows, or padded bolsters that resemble a sofa cushion. Poses are held much longer than in other styles of yoga, often as long as 7 minutes. Measured breathing is emphasized, and many commercial classes feature meditative music.
One explanation for the difference may be that restorative yoga reduces levels of cortisol, which rises during times of stress and is known to increase abdominal fat. Araneta told Evidence-Based Diabetes Management that results on cortisol will be released later in 2013.