UMN Study: Yoga May Help Prevent Weight Gain Over Time

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Young adults who practice yoga may experience less weight gain over time than those who do not. This finding comes from a recent University of Minnesota School of Public Health study exploring yoga practices of young adults.

Excessive weight gain can lead to health issues, making it an area of concern for public health officials. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., Epidemiology and Community Health Professor and lead study author was personally and professionally motivated to examine potential health impacts of yoga. “Through my own yoga practice, I became interested in the potential for yoga to contribute to my area of research that involves preventing a broad spectrum of weight-related problems. Yoga is increasing in popularity; we need innovative and accessible approaches to address weight-related concerns; and the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of yoga may be helpful in leading to a healthier lifestyle. I wanted to explore this area,” Neumark-Sztainer said.

The population-based study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, examined survey responses from 1,830 young adults participating in Project EAT-IV. It examined how many young adults have practiced yoga, how many practice regularly, where they practice, and how this activity was associated with change in  body mass indexes (BMIs) over time.

Theresultsshowed that young adults who were overweight and practiced yoga regularly had a non-significant 5-year decrease in their BMIs, while those who did not had significant increases in their BMIs. This finding was encouraging as it suggests that yoga may be helpful in weight gain prevention. “Yoga may offer a kind and compassionate manner for individuals living in larger bodies to be active,” Neumark-Sztainer said.

While the potential to prevent weight gain among young adults is encouraging, the study also identified several barriers that could keep yoga from becoming widely practiced if not addressed. Young adults from all racial/ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels reported practicing yoga, but percentages tended to be lower among those who were nonwhite and had lower levels of educational attainment and household income.

Moreover, while high percentages of young adult women reported practicing yoga (56.4%), young adult men who reported ever practicing yoga was significantly lower (29.1%). The number of young adults who regularly practiced yoga in the last year was also significantly lower, with women at 20.5% and men at 6.1%.

“The practice of yoga has many potential benefits. It is important to ensure that yoga is available and accessible to individuals and populations at risk for weight-related problems, including low-income and ethnically diverse populations. Yoga studios should ensure that people of all sizes and abilities feel welcome and yoga teachers should be trained to teach in body sensitive manner,” Neumark-Sztainer said.

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For more than 60 years, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health has been among the top accredited schools of public health in the nation.  With a mission focused on research, teaching, and service, the school attracts nearly $100 million in sponsored research each year, has more than 100 faculty members and more than 1,300 students, and is engaged in community outreach activities locally, nationally and in dozens of countries worldwide. For more information, visit www.sph.umn.edu. The School’s Centers for Public Health Education and Outreach promotes lifelong learning to bridge academic and public health practice communities.