People are quickly warming up to a new fitness trend: Hot yoga.
Also known as Bikram yoga, hot yoga consists of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in 90 minutes at 105F and 40 percent humidity. The practice is thought to detoxify the body, relieve stress and heal bone and joint pain.
But is hot yoga safe for your health? Marshfield Clinic cardiologist Kelley Anderson says yes – most of the time for most people – with precautions.
Your cardiovascular system and body heat
“Hot yoga, or any extreme exercise in heat, is a big burden to the cardiovascular system,” Anderson said.
Your system works harder during hot yoga than normal activity. As you begin, your heart rate and core temperature increase and sweat forms to cool the body.
“Normal body temperature is 97F, but you’re practicing yoga in 105F or hotter,” he said. “The room heat challenges your system to maintain normal core temperatures.”
Vigorous exercise in warm environments can lead to dehydration, premature exhaustion, hyperthermia and a condition called malignant hyperthermia, which can cause organ failure and sudden death.
Steps to avoid hot yoga mishaps
Hot yoga is a bigger risk for people 40 years and older.
It is not recommended for anyone with pre-existing health conditions or those prone to heat stroke or dehydration.
Take these steps to ensure hot yoga is right for you:
1. Talk to your doctor.
“It’s normal for college athletic programs to require screening for incoming athletes. Just like these programs follow standardized American Heart Association physical exam guidelines to identify risks, it’s not unreasonable to suggest similar examinations for extreme exercise like hot yoga,” Anderson said.
Yogis lose water via sweat during hot yoga. Avoid dehydration and heat stroke by regularly drinking water: approximately 8 cups. Endurance training often requires replacement of salt (sodium chloride) and other electrolytes.
3. Get there gradually.
If you do not regularly exercise, hot yoga is not the best place to start. Begin with light exercise and mild conditions and progress as tolerated.
“Limited studies and research available include fit participants who are consistent in their exercise regimen,” Anderson said.
That does not mean you should never try hot yoga.
Start with easy-to-moderate exercise or yoga poses. When your body is ready, gradually increase heat and humidity, day-by-day to work toward full hot yoga.
“Generally, we love to know our patients exercise. That’s great,” Anderson said. “ But it can’t hurt to have a conversation with your doctor when trying new, intense exercise programs.”