UMN study suggests yoga prevents weight gain

Researchers found that young adults who practiced yoga regularly didn’t gain weight over time.

Students and staff participate in a yoga class offered by Boynton Health Monday.

Courtney Deutz

Students and staff participate in a yoga class offered by Boynton Health Monday.

Sally Samaha

Yoga may be effective in preventing weight gain, according to a University of Minnesota study published this month.

In response to the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S., University researchers wanted to analyze whether regular yoga practice impacted weight gain over time. Researchers also say the activity’s emphasis on mental health can help people build self-esteem, leading to healthier choices.

“I became very interested in the potential for yoga to help with issues related to body image, eating disorders, obesity, eating behaviors and physical activity,” said the study’s lead author, University professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer.

The study is part of a larger study called Project EAT, which examines nutrition, physical activity and weight status among people in Minnesota ranging from adolescence to adulthood. 

Researchers focused on young adults who were overweight five years before the study. Those who engaged in yoga had a slight weight loss over time, while those who were not practicing yoga gained weight.

Yoga’s emphasis on mental health means it may decrease stress and improve mood, which are important factors in weight management, said Allison Watts, an author of the study.

And the practice is becoming increasingly popular, in part because it is accessible to those of all fitness levels, said Beth Lewis, University professor and director of the School of Kinesiology.

“[Yoga] has the potential to reach individuals who … want something that combines a physical activity that really deals with not only your mental health but your physical well-being,” Lewis said.

Yoga may also be effective because it promotes balance in many aspects of life, like food intake and adequate rest, said Miriam Cameron, the lead faculty for yoga and Tibetan medicine at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing.

“If my mind and body are healthy, then I’m much more likely to make good choices,” Cameron said.

The study of yoga and its relation to weight is still in its early stages, but it holds promise in identifying ways to help people improve their overall health, Watts said.  

“When we talk about issues of weight we need to do so in a manner that helps people feel better about their bodies,” Neumark-Sztainer said. “Yoga offers an opportunity for people to feel better about their bodies and then want to nurture them through positive self-care.”