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8 Surprising health benefits of yoga

Yoga at beach
Christina Heiser
Christina Heiser May, 13, 2019

Skincare-obsessed, fitness enthusiast, cat lover 

It's no secret that yoga is healthy. After all, the practice has been revered for thousands of years because of its many benefits! It's one of the best ways to chill out after a stressful day, and it can transform your life in a ton of other ways.

Beyond the stress-relieving advantages of yoga we all know and love, it turns out there are quite a few other health benefits of yoga.

Surprising advantages of practicing yoga

It's time to get your "om" on! Here are eight health benefits of yoga that you might not have heard of.

1. Yoga has major skin-soothing abilities

Want to pump up the glow factor and soothe your skin? Well, one of the most unexpected advantages of yoga is the positive effect it can have on your complexion. When stress increases your body's production of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) and disrupts your skin barrier, it allows irritants to get in and moisture to get out. This often acts as a trigger for skin conditions like dryness and eczema.

Curbing stress by making yoga a regular habit can actually lower your body's output of stress hormones and help clear your skin. You'll look as good as you feel — fantastic on both counts!

2. You can ensure your heart stays healthy

Sadly, heart disease is extremely common in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600,000 people in the United States die from it every year. But there is some good news: Practicing yoga is one way to potentially cut down on your risk of cardiovascular disease as you grow older.

The proof is in the research; a study that examined individuals who had been practicing yoga for five years revealed that they had a significantly lower blood pressure than those who didn't practice yoga. As high blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart attacks, that's a pretty major benefit. According to the report's authors, the findings indicated that "yoga reduces the age-related deterioration in cardiovascular functions." In a separate study, researchers found that regularly practicing yoga can also reduce high cholesterol, which is another health condition that often leads to heart disease.

3. Your immune system could get a big boost

Feeling sick all the time? You might want to blame stress. Just as stress has a negative effect on your skin, it can also do a number on your immune system. In fact, recent research has confirmed that boosting your body's internal defense system via a reduction of stress levels is another one of the many health benefits of yoga.

A study published in the Journal of Behaviorial Medicine looked at the connection between yoga and the immune system. Researchers came to the conclusion that yoga has the ability to decrease inflammation — which can lead to illnesses and infections — and strengthen individuals' immunity. So it totally makes sense that a healthy activity like this can help prevent you from occasionally getting sick!

4. Yoga strengthens your body — and relationships

You can even consider yoga an alternative form of couples therapy. One of the most surprising advantages of the practice is its power to improve relationships.

Research has found links between mindfulness (one of the main tenets of yoga) and more satisfying relationships. This may come down to the fact that those who regularly practice mindfulness exercises like meditation and yoga tend to show changes to the regions in their brains that are linked to compassion and kindness. You can thank us the next time you kiss and make up with your sweetheart!

Group of cute Hispanic women relaxing and meditating during their yoga class in a gym

5. You could sleep so much better

When you're super stressed out, you're more likely to toss and turn all night. We've all been there. Due to the fact yoga eases stress, it may help you get the full eight hours of sleep you need to fire on all cylinders the following day.

A study published in the journal Cancer examined the effects of Tibetan yoga on the sleep habits of cancer patients and found that individuals who practiced yoga reported a significantly lower number of sleep disturbances compared to those who didn't incorporate yoga into their lives.

6. You may have an easier time breathing

Lung capacity — the amount of air your lungs can hold — is a strong indicator of health. But if you have asthma, a heart condition or some sort of respiratory ailment, breathing can be challenging. Fortunately, yoga can help here, too!

For a study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, researchers taught 287 college students a variety of yoga poses, breathing techniques and relaxation methods twice a week. At the end of the 15-week study, the researchers saw significant improvements in participants' lung capacity. That's definitely a reason to hit the mat!

7. Your headaches could go away faster

Anyone who gets migraines knows how difficult it is to function when you're experiencing one. They can be such a pain — literally.

Interestingly, a study that aimed to explore whether yoga could be a treatment for migraines came to some conclusions that yogis everywhere would be happy to hear. Migraine patients were either given conventional care alone or practiced yoga in addition to receiving conventional care. Over time, those who practiced yoga showed marked improvement in their migraine symptoms, reporting fewer headaches and less pain.

8. Yoga can help you make healthier eating choices

A healthy diet is key to maintaining your overall health. And while we believe you should never deny yourself the pleasure of a delicious dessert, moderation is key! Because of yoga's focus on mindfulness and being in tune with your body, you may find yourself making healthier eating choices.

Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that participants who regularly practiced yoga ate more fruits and vegetables (and less fast food) than those who didn't. Researchers concluded that yoga influenced participants' motivation to continue healthy eating habits as well as manage their emotional eating urges.

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