The health benefits of yoga

Nationwide it appears yoga has recently skied in popularity. Beyond the ”coolness” factor of it, yoga actually has many health benefits. I can tell you that personally because I was diagnosed with a low back problem several months ago, and I began taking anti-inflammatories for several weeks thinking it would go away.

Needless to say, it didn’t. I then began doing yoga to strengthen my core and low back muscles. I am happy to say now that I am pain-free, and can personally attest to the benefits of yoga.

An array of benefits

As a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, I see many patients with Achilles pain and plantar fasciitis. One of the key reasons these issues occur is due to a tight calf and hamstring. Yoga has helped many of my patients address these tight muscles and subsequently relieve their foot pain.

Yoga has many benefits to the musculoskeletal system. Muscle imbalance and tightness can lead to joint pain from head to toe. As I mentioned earlier, a tight calf and hamstring can lead to Achilles and plantar fascia pain. Tight hamstrings can also lead to the flattening of the lower back and improper alignment of the hip.

One study in the journal Spine showed that 90 minutes of yoga a week for 6 months decreased back pain by 56%The flexibility yoga provides can improve this.

I have been into weight training all my life and was an all-American power lifter in college. Initially, I shied away from yoga thinking that I would lose my muscle strength, however, my assumption was very wrong. Yoga is one of the best ways to build muscles, including your core abdominal muscles which are integral in overall body posture.

As an orthopedic surgeon, I often prescribe physical therapy to strengthen muscles around joints, not only to protect them but to allow the joints to function more normally. Yoga serves the same purpose and is excellent for maintaining joint health.

Positive effects of yoga

Beyond muscles and joints, yoga serves many other overall health benefits.  There have been many studies showing the positive effects of yoga on blood pressure, sleep and confidence.

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1.  Blood pressure

The impact that yoga has on blood pressure is thought to come from the relaxation and mindfulness of it. One study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that patients that did yoga 2-3 times a week for 24 weeks had a significant drop in blood pressure greater than the diet group alone.

2.  Sleep

Research has also shown yoga can improve sleep. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that patients who participated in yoga 45 minutes for two months fell asleep 15 minutes faster and slept for one hour longer.

3.  Confidence

Increased confidence may be yet another benefit of yoga. A study from the University of California Berkley finds women who practiced regularly rated their body satisfaction 20 percent higher than did those who took aerobics, even though both groups were at a healthy weight.

The full benefits of yoga are still being researched and discovered. As an orthopedic surgeon, I can say that yoga is a healthy form of exercise that helps people physically and mentally.

As someone who has reaped the benefits of yoga personally, I highly recommend trying it, and I am sure you will see the benefits also.

About the author

Dr. Sarang Desai
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Dr. Desai is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in injuries and disorders of the foot and ankle. He was an All-American athlete and continues to lead an active lifestyle lifting weights, doing triathlons and participating in yoga.

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The health benefits of yoga