Can yoga help you lose weight? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it can help with mobility, but there’s not much evidence to show that exercise is a real calorie burn. A study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (opens in a new tab), showed that a 60-minute Vinyasa practice burned fewer calories than walking on a treadmill. As such, it’s probably not the most effective workout style if you’re trying to lose weight.
There is some evidence that some people can lose weight through yoga, but the average healthy person won’t see significant changes. Keep in mind, however, that the benefits of yoga (opens in a new tab) are many, so if you have invested in any of the best yoga mats (opens in a new tab) worth hanging on to for now. Here’s what the latest research says about yoga and weight loss.
Can yoga help you lose weight?
A systematic review of 445 records, published in Preventive medecine (opens in a new tab), concluded that there was little evidence to suggest that yoga could have dramatic effects on weight in healthy individuals. However, the review notes that there were significant changes in body mass recorded for overweight people who participated in yoga studies. So the practice might decrease some people’s weight – but as with many exercise programs, it depends on your starting fitness level, as well as the frequency and intensity of yoga sessions.
Research has also shown that yoga can lower your basal metabolic rate – the amount of energy needed for household functions in the body. If this rate is lowered, the whole body slows down and this means that the body needs fewer calories for its housekeeping functions. A study published in 2006 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (opens in a new tab) found that basal metabolic rate was reduced by 13% in people who practiced yoga compared to those who did not.
The study involved more than 100 participants who were prescribed a diverse practice of Hatha yoga designed to speed up and slow down metabolic rate. Participants followed this routine for more than six months.
The study also found that the average drop in basal metabolic rate for women was 8% compared to 18% for men. Lead author MS Chaya said the physiological slowing down of yoga “creates a propensity for weight gain and fat deposition”.
Indeed, the study found that the percentage reduction in basal metabolic rate was high enough to mean that yoga practitioners would need either less food or fewer calories. So if they continued to eat like before while doing yoga, they would actually gain weight.
Can yoga help you build muscle?
Yoga is considered a way to improve flexibility, but some evidence suggests it can also help you build (or at least improve) your muscles.
A study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (opens in a new tab) found that there were significant improvements in muscle strength in both men and women who practiced yoga compared to the control group. But increasing muscle strength may depend on the type of yoga you practice.
For example, a Yin or restorative yoga class affects connective tissues and focuses on passive stretching. Bikram or Ashtanga yoga, on the other hand, is much more dynamic and acts more like a cardio workout, where the postures are more demanding and the pace of the class is faster. You expect to build strength doing the latter, as it involves contracting muscles to stretch those in opposition. This is called active stretching.
Yoga can help you build muscle by progressing through poses, gradually trying different variations of postures, and increasing skill level. This is according to a study published in the Journal of Complementary Medicine Therapies (opens in a new tab).
Can yoga help improve other aspects of your health?
Yoga has many other health benefits, including increased flexibility, improved mental health and well-being, stress reduction, and sleep quality.
A study published in the International yoga journal (opens in a new tab) follow-up of university athletes over a period of 10 weeks. There were two groups; one that had yoga sessions every other week and a control group that did no yoga activity. There were significant differences in flexibility in the group that attended yoga sessions every two weeks while there were no significant differences in the group that did no yoga activity.
Yoga has also been shown to benefit mental health and well-being. The International yoga journal (opens in a new tab) published a study that found that practicing yoga and meditation as a way to manage acute and chronic stress can help individuals overcome disease-associated comorbidities and lead to better quality of life.
This study also found that regular yoga practice positively affected people’s ability to fall asleep. They found that it took them less time to fall asleep and that the number of hours slept increased. Participants also reported feeling more rested in the morning.
So while yoga may not lead to weight loss, it does offer many other benefits that could help you lead a happier and healthier life.
This article is not intended to offer medical advice and readers should consult their doctor or health care professional before adopting any diet or treatment.