Talk to any regular yogi and they’ll list off all the benefits of yoga with gushing excitement. From improving mental health to reducing aches and pain, yoga has developed a strong fan base for many reasons. But improving cardiovascular fitness isn’t often one of the best-touted perks of getting your stretch on. In certain fitness spaces, yoga isn’t even seen as a workout; instead, the gentle movements are reserved for something you might perform on rest days.

A new study has questioned this way of thinking and shows that adding yoga to your exercise routine supports cardiovascular health and wellbeing. The research, published in the Canadian Journal Of Cardiology, found that 12 minutes of yoga alongside 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five times a week, improved resting blood pressure and heart rate. While the research was only performed in 60 people, all with a previous diagnosis of high blood pressure or metabolic syndrome, there were some very interesting takeaways.  In particular, when the researchers compared yoga to stretching, they found the practice further reduced systolic blood pressure (by 10mmHg with yoga v 4mmHg with stretching). Yoga also reduced the participants’2 10-year cardiovascular risk.

What’s the difference between yoga and stretching?

But isn’t yoga just the same as stretching, you might be asking. The answer is no: while yoga poses, known as asanas, are often types of stretching, yoga is also about breathwork, meditation and spirituality, rather than just physical movements.

In this study, the yoga group performed traditional yoga stretches (such as cobra and warrior poses) alongside breathing exercises, while the stretching group performed more mechanical stretches like a  tricep stretch  and hamstring stretch.  Yoga poses like downward dog can improve blood pressure and cardio health While the researchers say they didn’t study the reasons yoga was so much more effective for improving cardiovascular health, lead investigator Paul Poirier hinted that it might be something to do with the stress relief experienced during yoga.

“We recommend that patients try to find exercise and stress relief for the management of hypertension and cardiovascular disease in whatever form they find most appealing,” says Dr Poirier. “Our study shows that structured yoga practices can be a healthier addition to aerobic exercise than simply muscle stretching.”

While research shows that stress plays a large role in hypertension, yoga’s meditative elements might do more than just improve mental health – it can also improve physical fitness.

For those who say yoga isn’t a full-body workout, the latest research would disagree.