Over the last 3 decades, there has been a wealth of research suggesting that light to moderate cardiovascular exercise such as walking can benefit those suffering from depression. But what about yoga?
The theory behind how exercise works to improve mood centers around endorphins, “feel-good” chemicals made by the brain. Working out increases endorphin levels, which improves mood and gives some people a “runner’s high.” Research back in 2007 suggested that yoga might not have a large an impact on endorphin levels, but did effect levels of something called GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter. Low GABA levels aren’t just associated with depression, but also with anxiety.
Now those researchers are back with a new, bigger study. The results? Yoga did improve GABA levels. More importantly, test subjects doing 3 hours of yoga a week “reported lower levels of anxiety and increases in their mood” than control subjects who walked 3 hours a week. This was true even though the yoga group burned fewer calories and did not get their heart rates into what most people consider the aerobic exercise “zone” of 65-85% of maximum estimated heart rate. However, they did confirm that yoga resulted in improved strength, flexibility, and balance.
The bottom line is that yoga can lighten you up in addition to making you stronger and more flexible.
Her Take: If your doctor has recommended exercise to help improve your mental health, don’t neglect flexibility! A bit of yoga can be helpful in addition to cardio exercise such as walking, particularly if you suffer from anxiety.