Yoga to prevent cardiovascular disease


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a global health burden. Nevertheless, it is thought that the risk of CVD can be lowered by changing a number of risk factors, such as by increasing physical activity and using relaxation to reduce stress, both of which are components of yoga. This review assessed the effectiveness of any type of yoga in healthy adults and those at high risk of CVD.

Study Characteristics

We searched scientific databases for randomised controlled trials (clinical trials where people are allocated at random to one of two or more treatments) looking at the effects of yoga on adults at high risk of developing CVD. We did not included people who had already had CVD (e.g. heart attacks and strokes). The evidence is current to December 2013.

Key Results

We found 11 trials (800 participants), none of them were large enough or of long enough duration to examine the effects of yoga on decreasing death or non-fatal endpoints.There were variations in the style and duration of yoga and the follow-up of the interventions ranged from three to eight months.The results showed that yoga has favourable effects on diastolic blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides (a blood lipid), and uncertain effects on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. None of the included trials reported adverse events, the occurrence of type 2 diabetes or costs. Longer-term, high-quality trials are needed in order to determine the effectiveness of yoga for CVD prevention.

Quality of the Evidence

These results should be considered as exploratory and interpreted with caution. This is because the included studies were of short duration, small and at risk of bias (where there was a risk of arriving at the wrong conclusions because of favouritism by the participants or researchers).

Authors' conclusions: 

The limited evidence comes from small, short-term, low-quality studies. There is some evidence that yoga has favourable effects on diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and uncertain effects on LDL cholesterol. These results should be considered as exploratory and interpreted with caution.

Read the full abstract...

A sedentary lifestyle and stress are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Since yoga involves exercise and is thought to help in stress reduction it may be an effective strategy in the primary prevention of CVD.


To determine the effect of any type of yoga on the primary prevention of CVD.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following electronic databases: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (2013, Issue 11) in The Cochrane Library; MEDLINE (Ovid) (1946 to November Week 3 2013); EMBASE Classic + EMBASE (Ovid) (1947 to 2013 Week 48); Web of Science (Thomson Reuters) (1970 to 4 December 2013); Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE), Health Technology Assessment Database and Health Economics Evaluations Database (Issue 4 of 4, 2013) in The Cochrane Library. We also searched a number of Asian databases and the Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED) (inception to December 2012). We searched trial registers and reference lists of reviews and articles, and approached experts in the field. We applied no language restrictions.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials lasting at least three months involving healthy adults or those at high risk of CVD. Trials examined any type of yoga and the comparison group was no intervention or minimal intervention. Outcomes of interest were clinical CVD events and major CVD risk factors. We did not include any trials that involved multifactorial lifestyle interventions or weight loss.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently selected trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias.

Main results: 

We identified 11 trials (800 participants) and two ongoing studies. Style and duration of yoga differed between trials. Half of the participants recruited to the studies were at high risk of CVD. Most of studies were at risk of performance bias, with inadequate details reported in many of them to judge the risk of selection bias.

No study reported cardiovascular mortality, all-cause mortality or non-fatal events, and most studies were small and short-term. There was substantial heterogeneity between studies making it impossible to combine studies statistically for systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol. Yoga was found to produce reductions in diastolic blood pressure (mean difference (MD) -2.90 mmHg, 95% confidence interval (CI) -4.52 to -1.28), which was stable on sensitivity analysis, triglycerides (MD -0.27 mmol/l, 95% CI -0.44 to -0.11) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (MD 0.08 mmol/l, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.14). However, the contributing studies were small, short-term and at unclear or high risk of bias. There was no clear evidence of a difference between groups for low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (MD -0.09 mmol/l, 95% CI -0.48 to 0.30), although there was moderate statistical heterogeneity. Adverse events, occurrence of type 2 diabetes and costs were not reported in any of the included studies. Quality of life was measured in three trials but the results were inconclusive.