‘Hot yoga’ is one of the latest crazes among fitness aficionados, with thousands of people across the US and beyond joining celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna in signing up for classes in the sweltering heat. It’s widely perceived to be better than regular yoga, as the body is assumed to work much harder at the high temperatures in hot yoga studios. But if you’re hoping to boost your health or accelerate your weight loss by putting your body through the strain of hot yoga sessions, you might want to think again – because while a new study has found that hot yoga is unlikely to be harmful, it doesn’t appear to be any better for the body than standard yoga at a more bearable temperature!
What Exactly Is Hot Yoga?
There are various types of hot yoga, the best-known of which is Bikram. It involves traditional yoga techniques, but the classes are performed in rooms heated to extreme temperatures – as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity in the case of Bikram yoga! The supposed benefits include weight loss and improved strength and flexibility, with the effects deemed to be greater than those achieved with regular yoga.
But unfortunately for those who have sweated their way through countless hot yoga sessions, it seems that may not actually be the case!
What Have Scientists Found?
To investigate the effects of hot yoga on the body, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) asked researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to test the heart rate and core temperature of 20 men and women, aged 19 to 44 years, all of whom were healthy and relatively fit. Participants were put through their paces during 60-minute sessions of both regular yoga and hot yoga to see if the two types of yoga had differing effects on their bodies. The hot yoga studios were heated to an average of 92 degrees Fahrenheit and had higher levels of humidity.
Unfortunately, researchers at the university’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science failed to find any difference in changes in core temperature or heart rate between regular and hot yoga. Participants perceived the hot yoga classes to be more challenging than the regular yoga sessions. Yet participants averaged 57% of maximal heart rate during hot yoga – just 1% more than the average during the non-heated classes. This means that hot yoga is still classed as ‘light’ exercise according to industry guidelines.
ACE chief science officer Dr. Cedric Bryant revealed:
This study showed that while higher sweat levels may cause participants to feel like they were working harder, heart rates showed they were actually at comparable levels whether in the regular or hot yoga class.
But Study Does Allay Safety Concerns
The study may have failed to find any additional benefits with hot yoga, but it does help to clear up concerns about the classes’ safety. The highest core body temperature recorded during the hot yoga sessions was 102.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is lower than the levels needed to trigger concerns about fatigue and heat-related problems.
However, Dr. Bryant cautioned: “For those looking to participate in hot yoga of any kind, it’s important to properly hydrate before, during and after class, while also monitoring for early signs or symptoms of heat intolerance (e.g. headache, muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness or fatigue).”
For more information, read the ACE-sponsored study on hot yoga.