Hypertension is a major public health problem and one of the most important causes of premature morbidity and mortality. Yoga is a traditional Indian practice that has been adapted for use in complementary and alternative medicine and mainly includes physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. The impact of yoga as a complementary intervention for hypertension has been investigated in a number of randomized controlled trials; with an overall effect of about 10 mmHg reduction in systolic and about 8 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure. Yoga seems to be effective only for hypertension but not for prehypertension; and only as an adjunct to antihypertensive pharmacological treatment but not as an alternative therapy. Breathing and meditation rather than physical activity seem to be the active part of yoga interventions for hypertensive patients. These practices can increase parasympathic activity and decrease sympathetic activity, arguably mainly by increasing GABA activity; thus counteracting excess activity of the sympathetic nervous system which has been associated with hypertension. Although yoga has been associated with serious adverse events in single case reports, population-based surveys as well as clinical trials indicate that yoga is a relatively safe intervention that is not associated with more adverse events than other forms of physical activity. Yoga can thus be considered a safe and effective intervention for managing hypertension. Given the possibly better risk/benefit ratio, it may be advisable to focus on yogic meditation and/or breathing techniques.
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