Yoga practitioners and medical professionals alike tout the many benefits of yoga, ranging from strength and flexibility to an increased ability to stay calm during chaos.

But not every yoga session results in sweating or an increased heart rate, leading some to question its merit as a workout.

Is yoga alone enough exercise? The answer may depend on your personal goals and fitness level.

There’s no clear answer on this question, with some experts declaring that yoga does not provide enough aerobic benefit to suffice as a person’s only form of exercise, while others wholeheartedly say that yes, yoga is enough to keep a person fit and healthy for a lifetime.

Confounding the issue is the range of yoga types. If someone were to practice yin yoga, which involves holding restorative poses for up to 5 minutes, then no, yoga would not be enough exercise. Conversely, more rigorous forms of yoga leave practitioners dripping in sweat at the end—even if the class wasn’t in a heated room.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults exercise at moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, and at vigorous intensity for at least 20 minutes per day, 3 times per week. In order for yoga to meet those criteria, the class would have to be a very fast-paced, vinyasa-style that raised your heart rate for that time.

Hot yoga doesn’t automatically count because the heat makes you sweat more without necessarily raising your heart rate.

Yoga undoubtedly builds muscle and flexibility, but did you know it can also  contribute to a healthy heart?

Indian researchers found yoga practitioners had healthier hearts than people who didn’t practice, based on heart rate variability, according to a study published in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics. Heart rate variability refers to changes occurring in the heart from beat to beat. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recommends yoga as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Ultimately, the answer depends heavily on a person’s personal fitness goals. Yoga builds incredible core and muscle strength. Experienced yogis regularly balance on their arms and support their entire body weight on their hands or forearms during inversions. However, even someone able to hold a handstand for five minutes might find pull-ups difficult because no yoga pose replicates that pulling action.

Also, for yoga to count as exercise, it must be rigorous. Practicing only yin or restorative types of yoga do not elevate the heart rate enough to constitute an effective workout, even though these types of yoga offer many other benefits, including relaxation and enhanced flexibility.

Whatever workout choice you make is a highly personal one. If you do nothing but yoga and feel fit, that’s probably okay. And if you want to mix it up and hit the gym or go on a run, that’s okay too.

Do you think people who only do yoga get enough exercise? 

Image by daveynin via Flickr

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