New study: Your Ashtanga practice isn’t enough to be healthy

OK, so this study doesn’t say Ashtanga specifically, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what it can mean.

The study, out this week in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, finds that even people who spend a fixed amount of time each day or week exercising are at greater risk for health problems if, the rest of the time, they are sedentary.

You know: Sitting around. Watching TV. Tied to a desk at work. Etc.

The Journal is online here. But a little easier to wade through is coverage by the LA Times and Reuters. From the Times:

In fact, for every hour of sedentary behavior, the odds were 46% greater that people older than 60 would have some disability in ordinary skills such as getting around the house and feeding themselves, according to the study published Wednesday in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.


“A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a variety of poor health outcomes, including increased incidence for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality,” the researchers wrote. But many people may have thought they’d done what they needed to if they met the government suggestion of 150 minutes a week of moderate activity.

Apparently not so.

The question was whether people were sedentary because they were not doing any exercise, or whether being sedentary was on its own a risk factor for disability in what are called activities of daily living – getting in and out of bed, getting dressed, being able to walk in the house.

The study looked at data from 2003 to 2005 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, a nationwide study that included physical exams along with questionnaires of 2,286 people 60 years and older.

From Reuters:

If future studies can confirm that sedentary behavior causes disability, which this study does not, then older people may possibly avoid becoming disabled by being more active throughout the day.


The study can’t say whether a sedentary lifestyle leads to disability or if having a disability leads to a sedentary lifestyle, however.

In addition, the authors note that their records of physical activity may not take into account some forms of exercise, because the devices that participants wore may not pick up upper body movement or cycling. Participants also didn’t wear the devices while swimming.

Stephen Kritchevsky told Reuters Health it’s too early to tell if interventions that get people moving during the day will prevent disability, but they couldn’t hurt because other studies suggest activity improves functioning.

I might, typically, put a caveat on the study’s focus on older Americans — but we know plenty (and increasing numbers of) Ashtanga practitioners who are older. And the researchers are quick to point to a rising number of sedentary children in America.

I’m also, obviously, the one linking this to an Ashtanga asana practice (or any yoga asana practice, I suppose). But I can’t help draw the comparison between a fixed time of activity — that 60 to maybe 120 minutes of your Ashtanga practice — and this study’s delineation between physical activity and sedentary “activity.”

And perhaps because I fall into my above category of person tied to a desk a lot, it really hits home. Because I do like to think that my asana practice is “enough” when it comes to healthy living, fitness-wise.

I do wonder whether physical activity along the lines of yoga — including all the benefits that studies are discovering — would show differently in a study like this. With all the yoga studies happening, maybe that’s on the horizon.

Perhaps the quote from one of the researchers that ends the Times story is a good suggestion: “Just get up and move.”

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “New study: Your Ashtanga practice isn’t enough to be healthy”

  1. Not to discount the need to have an active lifestyle outside of the shala, not to mention the need for a healthy diet, but let’s not overlook the fact that this study (based solely on the quotes posted above) seems to be tied to the “150 minutes of exercise a week” guidelines, which are, imo, not even close to enough. Most Ashtanga practitioners are doing a minimum of 540 minutes a week of practice alone, and many are in excess of 720. I think we’re good 🙂

    1. I’m sitting a lot more than these folks are, too! But definitely a good point. Thanks.

      I’m thinking about your 540 number — 90 minutes, 6 days a week. Do we really think most Ashtanga practitioners are hitting that mark? (I know a certain amount do.) I wonder what a real “average” is. And I wonder how it measures on the “moderate” exercise scale.

      I also wonder if this study might, then, be good for those who get in 45 to 60 minutes of practice, three or maybe four times, per week — and to know that’s not enough.

      That’s a lot of wondering.

      All that said, I do think that it’s probably not good to do six days of two-hour practice and then nothing else. 🙂


      1. Pro cycling proverb: Never run when you can walk. Never walk when you can stand. Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down. Never lie awake when you can sleep.

        My memory may be faulty but I think Tim has been quoted on the value of lots of naps.

      2. Good point, many are probably not as obsessive as me and the other 7 AM practitioners at “my” shala, haha. I do wonder sometimes if I should do some other excercise in addition to yoga, which, which certainly great for the body, is a spiritual practice at its core. Certainly wouldn’t kill me, nor would it kill me not to sit in front of a computer all day (working on fixing that….)

  2. In my experience and observations, ashtangis tend to be the overactive type, i.e. “enough is never enough.” Particularly in the case of women, I think it’s important to recognize that down time and rest are just as important to hormone production and overall health as activity at every stage of life.

  3. If one can get up every 60-90min (I sit in front of the computer all day) and walk around a bit that could should counter the observation noted by this study. Not that I actively follow my own advice 😛 However, I do drink a lot of liquids, which forces me to go to the bathroom quite often. Could be a solution 🙂

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