Female leg stepping on weigh scales with measuring tape and green apple. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept.

A new study published in the academic journal PLOS ONE suggests yoga is a viable way to improve the physical and cognitive faculties necessary for maintaining long-term weight loss, even if it lacks the physical intensity that is often the focus of calorie-burning workouts. Jessica Unicke, a researcher at Brown University and lead author of the study, is herself a yoga practitioner – as well as a tennis player. She found yoga increased her flexibility and strength, improving her tennis game.

“The more I practiced yoga, the more I began to notice how relaxed I would feel after each class and how I was more mindful of how I was feeling throughout the day,” Unicke said. “Being a weight loss researcher, it piqued my interest into the role of yoga for individuals seeking to lose weight.”

Unicke and her team recruited 60 women that were either obese or overweight and had them take part in a three-month behavioral weight-loss program that included diet and exercise goals. The researchers randomly assigned the women to one of two groups: One took part in 12 weeks of culinary classes and nutrition education while the other participated in a 12-week yoga course (with classes 2x per week).

The researchers then compared the two groups on measures of weight loss/gain, perceived stress, mindfulness, and distress tolerance. They also tracked participants’ enjoyment and satisfaction with the programs.

“Participants reported enjoying the yoga program, being highly satisfied… and being glad that they were assigned to do yoga,” says Unicke. “Our preliminary data suggests that for individuals who lost a significant amount of weight during the 12-week weight loss program (>5% of initial body weight lost), those in the yoga group lost an additional 3.5% of their body weight and had greater improvements on psychological measures when compared to those in the nutritional education group.”

The authors say that, beyond its physical benefits, yoga instills people with a mindset that makes it easier for them to follow through on their weight loss goals by reducing stress and increasing mindfulness. It is common for individuals to mindlessly eat in response to emotions (e.g., boredom, stress, anger, etc), rather than eating only when hungry. Frequent emotional or mindless eating could lead to less weight loss. Because yoga increases mindfulness, it reduces one’s automatic response to eat when faced with unsettling emotions.

Source: Forbes