Yoga is a relatively slow moving workout, so how does it stack up against those higher intensity “fat burning” boot camp style workouts.
Is it really just a way to wind down, or does it really help with weight loss?
Here we look at whether yoga is intense enough to burn calories, and the other ways that yoga affects your body while you try to lose weight.
The calorie breakdown
30 minutes of yoga for an 84kg person burns off on average 178 calories (745 kJ)1. If your weight is higher than this, this number will be higher. Kind of like how strapping on ankle weights makes it harder to lift your leg, as your muscles are pushing against a higher amount of resistance.
Say that you weigh 120kg. You could burn an extra 40-50 calories doing the same workout as someone that weighs 84kg2. So when you look at it from this point of view, yoga can, in fact, be an effective way to burn calories for the overweight/obese in a low impact, gentle way if it’s done regularly.
But it’s more than just calories
So we’ve looked at the calories burned off, great in theory right? But what we are coming to understand more and more is that weight loss is not as simple as calories in vs. calories out. We are complex. Or behaviors are complex (and sometimes not entirely in our control).
Weight loss comes down to a combination of what types of food we eat. How much of it we eat. How much exercise we do. How much we move in general through the day. Whether we smoke. Drink alcohol. How much TV we watch. How quickly we digest food. How much and how well we sleep3. All of which can be affected by how stressed we are, our habits, and coping strategies we learned throughout our lifetime.
Why yoga works
Yoga promotes more mindful eating (less unconscious eating), healthier food choices, and reduced emotional eating or eating due to being stressed. It was also found that yoga affected muscle tone, muscle mass, metabolism, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance4.
Some researchers have suggested that yoga could work by improving your ability to self- regulate (not give into urges or give up), making you more aware of negative feelings and triggers for overeating, and by becoming better able to handle uncomfortable feelings or experiences.
Should you start doing yoga?
As always, when considering starting a new exercise program it is best to get the all-clear from your doctor first. If you’ve struggled with exercise in the past and found it too difficult, and given up after a few sessions, yoga could be a much gentler way to help you on your weight loss journey.
1: Harvard Health Publishing. “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights”
2: My Fitness Pal. “Calories burned from exercise”
3: Dariush Mozaffarian, Dr. Tao Hao, Eric B. Rimm et al. (2011) “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men” New England Journal of Medicine 364, 2392-2404
4: A. Ross, A. Brooks, K. Touchton-Leonard, & G. Wallen (2016) “A Different Weight Loss Experience: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Behavioral, Physical, and Psychosocial Changes Associated with Yoga That Promote Weight Loss” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med