Looking to reap the cardio benefits you get from running in a peaceful Bikram session? This yoga practice does have scores of health benefits, but whether cardio is one of them is not clear. Whichever exercise you choose, however, you'll enjoy healthy rewards. Physical activities like yoga and running help reduce body fat, combat stress, build strength and fight illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and stroke, which is why the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition recommends 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. (See Reference 1)
Bikram yoga is based on Hatha yoga principles and involves performing 26 poses and two breathing techniques in a 105-degree studio with 40 percent humidity. By the end of each 90-minute session, you'll have sweat profusely and worked every major muscle group. Bikram increases flexibility and strength while fighting stress. However, it isn't safe for everyone. The intense conditions may cause problems if you are pregnant, easily dehydrated or have previously suffered heat exhaustion. Check with your doctor if you have concerns, and drink plenty of water before, during and after your Bikram experience. (See Reference 5)
Bikram and Cardio
The jury is out on the cardio benefit of yoga, if any even exists. A 2001 study at UC Davis observed 10 college students who practiced yoga four times a week for eight weeks. They found a modest increase in VO2max, a measure of oxygen consumption used as an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. (See Reference 2) However, a study conducted in 2012 at Colorado State University followed young adults who performed Bikram three days a week for eight weeks and found no cardiovascular benefit at all. (See Reference 3)
Running and Cardio
Running just may be the queen of all cardio. Clearly beating out yoga in this department, running can reduce resting heart rate and considerably raise VO2max, according to PubMed. Distance runners also display thicker left ventricles, or heart chambers, pumping more blood with each beat than their non-runner counterparts. Such increased cardiovascular efficiency is one of the trademarks of longtime runners. (See Reference 4)
Concerns with Running
Despite the major cardiovascular boost and other health benefits, running can be risky. When you run, you are more prone to injury than with riding a bike or using cardio equipment at the gym. Running gives your legs and back a pounding, particularly on hard surfaces like pavement. Ankle, knee, foot and shin issues are all concerns. To play it safe, invest in quality running shoes, stay hydrated and wear warm clothes in winter to insulate your muscles. Ease slowly into a running routine, and always stop immediately at the first sign of pain. (See Reference 6)
- President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition: Be Active: Why Is It Important?
- Yoga Journal: Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit?
- PubMed.gov: Bikram Yoga Training and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adults
- PubMed.gov: Cardiovascular Aspects of Running.
- MayoClinic.com: What is Hot Yoga?
- KidsHealth.org: Safety Tips: Running
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images