Objectives: Exercise is considered an acceptable method for improving and maintaining physical and emotional health. A growing body of evidence supports the belief that yoga benefits physical and mental health via down-regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The purpose of this article is to provide a scholarly review of the literature regarding research studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise on a variety of health outcomes and health conditions.
Methods: Using PubMed((R)) and the key word "yoga," a comprehensive search of the research literature from core scientific and nursing journals yielded 81 studies that met inclusion criteria. These studies subsequently were classified as uncontrolled (n = 30), wait list controlled (n = 16), or comparison (n = 35). The most common comparison intervention (n = 10) involved exercise. These studies were included in this review.
Results: In the studies reviewed, yoga interventions appeared to be equal or superior to exercise in nearly every outcome measured except those involving physical fitness.
Conclusions: The studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures. Future clinical trials are needed to examine the distinctions between exercise and yoga, particularly how the two modalities may differ in their effects on the SNS/HPA axis. Additional studies using rigorous methodologies are needed to examine the health benefits of the various types of yoga.