Yoga can help your heart and weight as well as your health.

Why Try Yoga: 6 Health and Fitness Benefits

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 Helps Your Heart

While not technically a cardio exercise, some types of yoga do get your heart rate up. And 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.

2. Yoga melts pounds

Like all forms of exercise, yoga burns calories. And while yoga does not have the calorie-burning power of running or aerobics, it has some additional weight loss benefits. For example, yoga builds body-confidence and mindfulness, so you feel more aware of what you’re eating and more commitment to taking care of yourself. And by combatting stress, yoga can help you resist stress snacking, too.

3. Yoga Builds Muscle

Yoga is essentially a very concentrated form of strength training. Each time you lunge, reach, or balance, you’re building up the muscles you use to hold that pose. You may not be working with weights, but it’s the same thing–you’re just using your own body weight for resistance.

4. Yoga Helps Back Pain

With all that bending, reaching, and stretching, yoga is a great way to keep your back strong and pliable. And if you suffer from back pain, yoga can be an important part of a plan to get you back on track. In fact, one study found when people with lower back pain took just two yoga classes a week, they cut their back pain in half! (That said, if you have any type of injury you should consult with your doctor about starting yoga or any fitness activity.)

5. 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.

6. Yoga Helps You 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.