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Does Yoga Qualify as an Aerobic Workout?

Updated: May 31, 2023

Person walking on a treadmill

In a NYT article by the same name, you can read about a study of 22 people performing surya namaskar (sun salutations ) for 8 minutes. People performed sun salutations for 8 minutes, taking either 12 seconds to hold and move from pose to pose or 3 seconds. It probably comes as no surprise that when doing the salutations quickly, the people expended more energy and burned more calories (5.42 vs. 3.30 Kcal/min).

Other researchers have been curious about whether yoga can be considered a “workout”, which for most people requires heavy breathing, an elevated heart rate and some sweating. To be sure, this is the type of “workout” the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests…we all need to be participating in weekly “moderate intensity” physical activity (for 150 mins/wk, in bouts of 10+ minutes or more).

Does yoga fill that bill? Probably not for an entire class, but most likely it does for the sun salutations. Consider this, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), “moderate intensity” physical activity ranges from 3-6 METs (3.5-7Kcal/min).

So, in the study reported by the NYT, both conditions of performing sun salutations ball within the “moderate intensity” guidelines. Other reports of the intensity of performing sun salutations have ranged from mean METs of 3.73 (Hagins 2007) to 8.04 (Mody 2011). It is interesting to note that in the study by Hagins, participants not only performed sun salutations, they also walked on a treadmill at 3.2kph and 4.8kph. Their mean MET levels for treadmill walking were 2.5 and 3.3, respectively, suggesting that sun salutations can be surpass intensities achieved during walking, the most prescribed exercise for combating heart disease and diabetes.

So what does this mean? Not all yoga styles and practices will qualify as a “workout”, but some might. For many people, the response will be “Who cares?!”. There are benefits of yoga that go way beyond energy expenditure. For others seeking to adhere to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, find a yoga a class that includes 10 minutes of sun salutations and enjoy.

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