Yoga May Help Prevent Weight Gain Over Time

By October 4, 2017
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Excessive weight gain can lead to health issues, making it an area of concern for public health officials. A recent study from the School of Public Health exploring the subject shows that young adults who practice yoga may experience less weight gain over time than those who do not.

The study was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

The study’s lead author, Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, was personally and professionally motivated to examine potential health effects 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,” says Neumark-Sztainer. “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.”

The study examined survey responses of participants in Project EAT-IV, the school’s long-running analysis of nutrition, physical activity, and weight status among young people and teens. Specifically, the recent study looked at 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.

The results showed that young adults who were overweight and practiced yoga regularly had a non-significant five-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,” says Neumark-Sztainer.

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 ever practicing yoga (56 percent), young adult men who reported ever practicing yoga was significantly lower (29 percent). The number of young adults who regularly practiced yoga in the last year was also significantly lower, with women at 20 percent and men at 6 percent.

“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 a body sensitive manner,” says Neumark-Sztainer.