Can yoga help you lose weight?

Can yoga help you lose weight: Image shows woman practicing yoga at home
(Image credit: Getty)

Can yoga help you lose weight? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it can help with mobility, but there’s not much proof to show that the exercise is a real calorie-torcher. One study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, showed that a 60-minute Vinyasa practice burned fewer calories than a walking session on a treadmill. As such, it’s probably not the most effective style of training if you’re trying to lose weight.

There is some evidence to show that certain individuals can lose weight through yoga, but the average healthy person won’t see significant changes. Keep in mind though that the benefits of yoga are numerous, so if you have invested in one of the best yoga mats it’s worth hanging onto it for now. Here’s what the latest research says on yoga and weight loss. 

Can yoga help you lose weight?

A systematic review of 445 records, published in Preventative Medicine, concluded that there was little evidence to suggest that yoga could have dramatic effects on the weight of healthy individuals. However, the review notes that there were some significant changes in body mass recorded for overweight individuals who participated in yoga studies. So the practice could decrease the weight of some people – but as with a lot of exercise programs, this depends on your starting fitness level, along with the frequency and intensity of the yoga sessions. 

Yoga students holding mountain pose

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Research has also shown that yoga can lower your basal metabolic rate – the amount of energy needed for the body’s housekeeping functions. If this rate is lowered, the whole body slows down and this means the body needs fewer calories for its housekeeping functions. A study published in 2006 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found the basal metabolic rate was reduced by 13% in people who had practiced yoga compared to those who had not.

The study involved more than 100 participants who were prescribed a diverse Hatha yoga practice which is designed to speed up and slow down the metabolic rate. The participants followed this routine for more than six months.

The study also found that the average drop in the basal metabolic rate of females was 8% compared to 18% for men. Lead author M. S. Chaya said the physiological slowing down from yoga, “creates a propensity for weight gain and fat deposition”.

Effectively, the study highlighted that the percentage of reduction in the basal metabolic rate was high enough to mean that yoga practitioners would either require less food and fewer calories. So if they continued to eat as before while still practicing yoga, they would actually gain weight.

Can yoga help you build muscle?

Yoga is considered to be a way of improving flexibility, but there is some evidence to suggest that it can also help you to build (or at least improve) muscle.

A study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found there were significant improvements in the muscular strength in men and women who practiced yoga compared with the control group. But increased muscle strength may depend on the type of yoga you practice. 

Woman practicing yoga at home

(Image credit: Getty)

For example, a Yin or Restorative yoga class affects the connective tissues and focuses on passive stretching. On the other hand, Bikram or Ashtanga yoga, which is much more dynamic, acts more like a cardio workout, where the postures are more challenging and the pace of the class is faster. You’d expect to build strength doing the latter because it involves contracting muscles to stretch opposing ones. This is known as active stretching.

One way that yoga can help you build muscle is by pose progression, gradually trying different variations of postures and increasing the skill level. This was found by a study published in the Journal of Complementary Therapies of Medicine.

Can yoga help improve other aspects of your health?

Yoga has many other health benefits, some of which are increased flexibility, improved mental health and wellbeing, reduced stress and quality of sleep. 

A study published in the International Journal of Yoga followed college athletes over a period of 10 weeks. There were two groups; one that had biweekly yoga sessions and a control group that did no yoga activity. There were significant differences in the flexibility of the group that attended biweekly yoga sessions whereas there were no significant differences in the group that did no yoga activity.

Man practicing yoga outside

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Yoga has also been shown to benefit mental health and wellbeing. The International Journal of Yoga published a study that found that practicing yoga and meditation as a means to manage acute and chronic stress can help individuals overcome comorbidities associated with diseases and leads to an improved quality of life.

This study also found that a regular yoga practice positively affected people’s ability to fall asleep. They found that less time was taken to fall asleep and there was an increase in the number of hours they slept for. Participants also reported feeling more rested in the morning.

So, although yoga might not lead to weight loss, it offers a lot of other benefits that could help you lead a happier, healthier life.

This article is not meant to offer medical advice and readers should consult their doctor or healthcare professional before adopting any diet or treatment. 

Kat Bayly
Contributing expert

Kat has 10 years of yoga teaching experience with further training in supporting injured students. She is qualified to teach Yin Yoga, Hormone Yoga Therapy and more traditional forms of Hatha yoga. Published in T3, Fit and Well, Tech Radar and Ekhart Yoga to name a few, she also has a certificate as a Yoga Therapy Practitioner. Currently completing a Masters in Psychology, Kat also works with those impacted by severe mental illness.