The study found that although the group who practiced in heated rooms saw a reduction in their body-fat percentage, but when it came to heart health and reduced risk of heart disease, they shared almost identical positive results with the group who practiced under normal conditions.
Bikram yoga is a system of yoga that takes its name from Bikram Choudhury, who started teaching it at his school in India more than 50 years ago.
The study authors also noted that some older adults become less tolerant of heat as they age, so the finding could be of interest to seniors who are drawn to the potential heart health benefits of yoga but are leery of exposure to excessive heat.
While practising Bikram yoga, involving 26 postures, led to health improvements, it showed that its heated environment did not play a role in attaining these benefits. "The new finding from this investigation was that the heated practice environment did not seem to play a role in eliciting improvements in vascular health with Bikram yoga", said Stacy D. Hunter, from the University of Texas at Austin.
Researchers had already done some work showing that yoga may improve the way people's heart vessels expand and contract.
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If the measure rises, it can indicate delayed development of atherosclerosis, which is a condition wherein arteries narrow and get stiff due to plaque build-up.
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To answer that question, the investigators focused on 52 sedentary but healthy adults aged 40 to 60. Participants were split into three groups: one assigned to a traditional Bikram class three times a week, one dedicated to practicing Bikram yoga at 23 degrees Celsius and one group that remained sedentary for the duration of the trial.
In the normal-temperature Bikram group, 14 participants completed the same classes except that their rooms had a normal temperature of 23°C. One group performed Bikram yoga in a hot room (three 90-minute sessions a week, for 12 weeks), another group performed it at room temperature for the same amount of time, while a control group didn't do any yoga at all.
However, the study authors note that this change was "relatively small and may not have had significant physiological impact".