Most yoga doesn't count as aerobics, but still offers a wealth of benefits.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
Approximately 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, reports "Yoga Journal" in the 2012 "Yoga in America" study. That makes for a lot of twisting, bending and folding, but doesn't necessarily help these Americans meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic, also called cardiorespiratory, exercise. Yoga offers tremendous health benefits by reducing stress and improving flexibility, coordination, and even strength, but it generally does not raise your heart rate enough to afford your aerobic benefits.
What is Aerobics
Aerobic exercise is not just the choreographed routines performed by Jane Fonda in her famous 1980's videos. The Cleveland Clinic defines aerobic exercise as movement that uses the large muscle groups consistently for a sustained period of time. Jogging, brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing are examples of aerobic exercise. Your heart rate increases to a minimum of 55 percent of maximum for low- to moderate-intensity training or as high as 90 percent of maximum for vigorous-intensity aerobics. The official position of the American College of Sports Medicine on cardiorespiratory training that you should do bouts lasting 10 minutes or longer to accumulate at least 20 to 60 minutes total, three to five times per week.
How Yoga Compares
Yoga is an ancient Eastern practice that involves physical postures, breath work, meditation and self study. Dozens of ways to practice yoga asanas, or physical postures, exist. These range from quiet seated poses that focus on stretching and breathing to rigorous flowing practices that involve standing, balancing on the hands and legs and complex twists. The emphasis of yoga is for breath and motion to work together in a type of moving meditation. A study published "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine" in 2007 found that practicing Hatha, a common form of yoga, resulted in low levels of physical activity equal to walking on a treadmill at about 2.5 mph. Although the goal of yoga is not a cardiorespiratory workout, more physically active asana practices may afford some mild aerobic benefits. "Bodywork and Movement Therapies" in January 2007 compared the heart-rate increasing effects of one of the most active forms of yoga, Ashtanga, to more gentle forms of yoga. The researchers found that Ashtanga did raise the heart rate significantly more than the quieter forms, but only to an average of 95 bpm, which represents low-intensity aerobic activity for people over age 50.
The American College of Sports Medicine classifies yoga as neuromuscular exercise, which is sometimes referred to as "functional" training. This type of exercise emphasizes your motor skills and helps hone balance and coordination. For older adults, neuromuscular exercise, such as yoga, can improve daily function and prevent falls. ACSM recommends you perform 20 to 30 minutes of this type of exercise daily. Many types of yoga could also fall under the rubric of flexibility training, which the ACSM also encourages you do as part of your weekly fitness routine. Yoga can help you meet the guidelines of performing stretches for the major muscle groups two to three times per week for 10- to 30-second holds to accumulate a total of 60 seconds total. (ref 6)
One of the benefits of aerobic exercise is its calorie-burning effects. Burning calories helps you manage and potentially lose weight. Dr. Donald Hensrud of MayoClinic.com reports that most types of yoga burn about 240 calories per hour for a 150-pound person, while a typical moderate-intensity aerobic session, such as brisk walking, will burn 360 calories. Don't ditch your yoga practice because it doesn't sizzle calories as efficiently as other forms of exercise, however. Yoga provides you with an improved outlook on life, can reduce back pain, improve your sleep and sex life, bolster your confidence and build functional strength. The January 2010 issue of the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" published a review of 81 studies and concluded that yoga provided an effective method of improving improving health in both healthy and diseased populations. The only aspect of health that yoga did not effectively change was physical fitness, meaning that you should augment your yoga training with regular aerobic workouts.