Yoga is a great way to stay fit, but new research suggests that regular practice can offer you much more than toned arms and abs. Here’s how hitting the mat can help improve your heart health

1. Yoga helps beat stress
When you encounter a stressful situation, the brain releases adrenaline into your system to help you either fight or flee the threat. This causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure increases.  While this response can help you protect yourself when facing a threat, living in a constant state of stress may wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, people who are prone to stress have a higher risk for heart disease than their calmer counterparts.

2. Yoga reduces inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s way of responding to injury and harmful situations, including stress.

Learning to relax through yoga may help decrease stress-related inflammation. Women who practice yoga regularly were exposed to a stressor, they had less of a blood compound linked to inflammation than novice practitioners.

3. Yoga may lower blood pressure
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, long-term high blood pressure can weaken your heart and damage blood vessel walls, causing plaque to build up and potentially narrow or block arteries. This is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

4. Yoga promotes physical activity
People who are physically inactive are twice as likely to be at risk for heart disease as those who do exercise, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Yoga improves strength and flexibility, which contributes to cardiovascular health.

Research shows that people who do yoga are also more likely to stick with an exercise routine. A 2012 study published in the journal Alternative Therapy Health Medicine enrolled previously inactive people in twice-weekly yoga classes for 10 weeks. Researchers found that doing the classes significantly increased the likelihood that the participants would continue to take part in physical activity.