Is Yoga Aerobic Enough? Studies Comparing Yoga Asanas to Physical Exercises
In a 2010 survey paper, researchers found that at least when it comes to VO2 max, Yoga asanas are inferior1 to physical exercises2. VO2 max, maximum oxygen consumption, is a standard measure for the physical fitness of an individual. But in most of the other health outcomes covered in the “meta-analysis”, yoga was just as good if not better than exercise.
Below is a comprehensive table from that 2010 survey paper3 comparing the Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise (see here for pdf version of the table below):
Here is a brief description of the studies the researchers reviewed:
Table 2 provides a summary of the studies comparing yoga and exercise by outcomes measured. Nearly half of the studies have been conducted on healthy populations, and yoga interventions have yielded positive results in both healthy and diseased populations. Nearly every study utilized a yoga intervention that combined physical asanas (standing, seated, or inverted) and restorative or relaxation poses. Seven of the 12 studies also incorporated meditation and/or breath work. Three studies did not specify the type of yoga intervention used. The remaining studies utilized Hatha yoga (N=4), Iyengar yoga (N=3), and Integrated yoga (N=2). While five of the studies provided specific sequences of yoga poses used in the intervention, the remainder offered few details.
… Most of the studies involved some form of aerobic exercise: walking, running, dancing, or stationary bicycling, plus some form of stretching. Two studies compared yoga with gentle, nonaerobic exercises and stretching.
(1) The researchers found that “… yoga interventions appeared to be equal or superior to exercise in nearly every outcome measured except those involving physical fitness. The studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures.”
(2) Granted, none of the subjects performed Rodney Yee’s extreme example of 108 sun salutations in a row!
(3) The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies, pdf version here.