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How Yoga Keeps You Youthful

You may have noticed people who practice yoga regularly tend to look much younger than their chronological age. A new study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine offers an explanation. Researchers found twelve weeks of yoga increased the body’s natural defenses against toxins by raising the level of antioxidants and making the immune system stronger.

So what are antioxidants, and how do they work?

When our bodies use food for energy, or when we encounter toxins in air pollution or UV rays from the sun, they generate harmful byproducts known as free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals that circulate through our blood and can damage cells, tissues, even our DNA.  This process is known as oxidative stress. We know oxidative stress is associated with heart disease, cancer, and even glaucoma.

Antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize the free radicals. Some antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and manganese. There is a long and diverse list that includes proteins, enzymes and compounds such as gluathione, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, flavonoids, penols, polyphenols snd phytoestrogens.

Scientists know eating antioxidant-rich foods such as beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, tea and chocolate can improve memory and heart health. Some antioxidants are believed to prevent cancer, and antioxidants on the skin slow the effects of aging from UV damage. Now we can include yoga on the list of natural antioxidant boosters.

The study compared 12 weeks of yoga practice to other exercise such as running, cycling, or jumping rope, and found that yoga produced much higher levels of antioxidants in the body and a reduction in oxidative stress. Participants in study, which included men and women, practiced yoga 90 minutes weekly in class, and 40 minutes at home for at least three times weekly.

To experience the full benefits of yoga, experts recommend you include the following in your weekly practice:

  • 35 minutes of yoga poses (asanas)

  • 30 minutes of yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) and

  • 25 minutes of meditation including a “loving-kindness” (Metta) meditation and self-awareness exercise that focuses on a non-judgmental attitude.

Unlike the other kinds of exercise, yoga also led to lower levels of nitric oxide, which in excess functions as a free radical. Yoga increased the level of natural antioxidants already present in the body, such as glutathione and glutathione peroxidase. The 12 weeks of yoga more than doubled the levels of glutathione in participants, which mirrors earlier research in which participants were evaluated over six months of yoga practice.

The study proved yoga also strengthens the immune system. After the 12-week period, participants showed a higher level of cytokines, a critical component in immune function.