Pop quiz: At what age should you start looking after your heart health? Well, if you haven’t already begun, the best time is right now, cardiologist Jennifer Haythe, MD, director of the cardio-obstetrics program at Columbia University, once told Well+Good. And it’s true: The younger you are when you start to give your heart what it needs to be its healthiest, the better off you are.
Things that support your heart health, according to Haythe, include watching your stress levels, moving more, quitting smoking, logging enough quality sleep, and getting treatment for mental health challenges when you need it. All of these efforts are undoubtedly proverbial spinning plates in the air that can’t always be perfectly balanced. But avoiding an all-or-nothing mindset about heart health is super important. Making small, deliberate changes to protect your cardiovascular well-being is the key to creating healthy habits that are actually sustainable in the long-term.
If you’re not sure where to start, how about adding a little bit of yoga to your weekly routine? The practice has long been studied for its cardiovascular benefits, and it’s been proven that yoga’s mix of deep breathing, mindfulness, and low-impact physical activity can have benefits for your heart (as well as your metabolic health and mental health). In December, for instance, a study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that people who did just 15 minutes of yoga five times a week for three months significantly improved their blood pressure and resting heart rates, and reduced their cardiovascular risk—benefits that weren’t seen among a control group that did stretches instead.
This might partially be explained by yoga’s focus on controlled breathing. “Slow, deep breathing helps you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls things like heart rate and blood pressure,” Nicola Banger, PT, OCS, a physical therapist with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, told Well+Good after the study came out.
“There is also an interesting mind-body connection,” Kapil Parakh, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and medical lead for Fitbit, previously told Well+Good. “Yoga can help reduce stress, which, if unmanaged, can lead to negative health effects, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Have we convinced you yet to roll out your mat? Well, you’re in luck. In this episode of our Trainer of the Month Club, yoga instructor Val Verdier leads us through a 9-minute, heart-opening yoga flow that will help you tune in, release stress, and take some deep, life-giving breaths.
Verdier says she particularly loves to do this sequence whenever she wants to get her blood flowing and her body warmed up—like before a run—but she doesn’t have a lot of time. The series swiftly flows through some classic moves like bridge pose, tabletop, downward dog, cobra, and child’s pose. Throughout, Verdier affirms different ways to do the positions, describes how they help open up the heart, and, of course, she encourages steady breathing throughout.
This flow is designed to get your heart pumping, so be prepared. If any of the movements proves to be a challenge, just return to your breath—it will help you center your energy, and support a healthy heart.