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HealthWatch: Don’t Count Weight Loss Among Yoga’s Benefits

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Yoga (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Yoga (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSSanFrancisco.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – A growing number of Americans are choosing to unplug from stressed-out, buzzed-up lives with the help of Yoga – but new research suggests that there are limits to the benefits of the ancient practice.

Yoga is actually the fastest growing health and fitness workout in the world. Twenty million Americans practice yoga. The billion dollar industry is booming, especially in the Bay Area. Practitioners at Bladium in Alameda are especially blissed out with their yoga class. Patrons said they were connecting with their bodies and easing minor pains.

“This is like the one time out of your day you give something back to yourself and just slow down,” said Yoga Instructor Tracie McCants.

New York Times journalist and senior science writer William Broad took a serious look at the science of yoga to get a better idea of its benefits. His book offers a revealing look at what’s real and what’s not in the world of yoga.

Broad found scientific evidence that yoga relieves stress, benefiting the heart by lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

“It’s wonderful for your cardiovascular system,” Broad told CBS 5.

Additional research showed Broad that all the spinal flexing, bending and stretching might also benefit your back. The movements may help to better deliver nutrients to the discs and that may fight spinal deterioration.

Broad also collected studies, many done in the San Francisco Bay Area, that yoga may be a good anti-aging tonic.

“There’s cutting-edge evidence that suggests that it can lengthen the lifespan of individual cells in your body,” said Broad.

A lot of research also backs up the claim that yoga can be a real boost to your sex life. Certain poses, like the Cobra, bring increased blood flow to the pelvis.

“There are some pretty interesting logical results to that, and they can measure it clearly; Testosterone levels go up,” said Broad.

However, there are lots of claims that yoga will help you lose weight. Broad found the opposite is true. His research shows with yoga, you run the risk of actually packing on a few pounds.

“Yoga for sure will help you lower your metabolism,” explained Broad. He said there is no scientific evidence to back up claims that even the more strenuous styles of yoga can increase your metabolism or help you lose weight.

Broad points to the research performed by scientist Mayasandra S. Chaya.

Chaya, an Indian physiologist in Bangalore, led a team of scientists who studied yoga and metabolism on more than 100 men and women. In 2006, Chaya published a study that showed how yoga lowered metabolism by about 8% in men and about 18% in women.

If you are a stress eater, you may be able to lose weight because yoga is so relaxing. But Broad emphasized that you lose weight despite of yoga not because of it.

Another myth, according to Broad’s research, is the claim that yoga is so aerobic, or that it’s the only exercise you need. Broad said that’s misleading, even if you include the more strenuous forms of yoga.

“You can get your heart going fast, but even so it’s not fast enough to meet even the minimal aerobic recommendations of public health officials,” said Broad.

So for all you yoga lovers, to achieve more balance, consider adding some aerobics to your routine.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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