Yoga builds core strength, improves flexibility, and boosts sports performance - and you can do it anywhere.

8 Reasons to Add Yoga to Your Fitness Routine

When most of us think of yoga, we think of stretching and flexibility. But that’s only one of many ways that yoga boosts your health and fuels your fitness.

1. Yoga Makes You Flexible

There’s a reason so many physical therapists and trainers recommend yoga (and many are practitioners themselves). Yoga improves the range of motion in your joints, muscles and connective tissue. This increased flexibility will up your game in just about any sport or fitness activity.

2. Yoga Helps Your Heart

According to the American Heart Association, yoga has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity and improve breathing, and boost circulation and muscle tone.

3. Yoga Burns Calories

Yoga may not provide the “burn” of running or zumba, but an hour-long class burns plenty of calories. Yoga aids weight loss in a more significant way, as well, by helping you build muscle. In recent years, research has shown that one of the best ways to boost your metabolism is to build muscle. Many people also find that the mindfulness training of yoga supports mindful eating, which has also been shown to support weight loss.

4. Yoga Helps Back Pain

Yoga improves flexibility in your spine, while strengthening the muscles of the back that support the spine to improve posture. And yoga helps you avoid tight hips and knees, which increase your chance of injury.  For all these reasons, yoga is beneficial in both preventing and easing back pain. For example, when people with lower back pain took just two yoga classes a week, researchers found they cut their back pain in half.

5. Yoga Reduces Stress

Like meditation, yoga lets you take a break from anxiety and helps you get a handle on nagging thoughts. Most classes also include a few minutes of mindfulness-based meditation at the beginning and end of class, sending you back out into the world calmer and more centered.

6. Yoga Makes You Stronger

Yoga is the ultimate body-weight workout. Like other types of strength training, you’re building muscle gradually through repetition. However, because yoga teaches you to hold each pose for an extended period of time, yoga’s benefits are very concentrated. Each time you dip into a lunge or hold yourself up in cobra, you’re hardening the muscles you use to hold that pose. Yoga is also one of the best fitness methods for building core strength. (Another is Pilates.)

7. Yoga Eases Depression

This one might surprise you, but there is research to back up the claim that yoga releases feel-good chemicals in the brain that lift your mood, ease anxiety, and reduce stress.

8. Yoga Improves Sleep

Any kind of exercise can help improve sleep both by easing stress and by making you more physically tired by the time you crawl into bed. But yoga, with its relaxation component, appears to benefit sleep more than other forms of exercise. One study found people who suffered from insomnia fell asleep faster after doing 45 minutes of yoga in the evenings.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.