Yoga has become a popular exercise we’ve incorporated into workout regimens the past 5-10 years. It helps with stress relief, tight muscles, and breathing. Even if we aren’t in Bikram (really hot) yoga, we sweat and feel the burn; does this mean yoga counts as cardio? Can we do this instead of running or another aerobic activity? Let’s start with the basics.

What is cardio exercise?

Cardio (aerobic) exercise literally means exercise with oxygen. It refers to the oxygen in our blood that it takes to produce the energy for the exercise itself. Aerobic exercise is contrasted to anaerobic activity (strength training) Normally, we think of cardio (aerobic) exercise as running, jogging, swimming, and cycling among others. What about yoga? We sweat; we pant and breathe heavy when holding those poses. We also build muscle and strength – so which is it?

Some studies suggest beginning yoga classes, whether in a hot room or not, burns just as many calories and increase your heart rate just as much as a mild/moderate walks. Others say that more advanced yoga classes can burn more calories, but not enough to be considered aerobic/cardio exercise. Does this mean yoga isn’t worth it? No! Yoga is great for flexibility, muscle tone, and balance. It also helps with stress reduction, deep-breathing, and can increase core strength (which we know is important to help prevent injuries!)

So can yoga count as cardio?

Not really. It doesn’t replace the cardio/aerobic exercise we need for heart health and weight loss/maintenance alone; but is an excellent supplement to a workout routine that includes both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. It can be a great way to stretch your muscles after a boot camp or run, or to wake up and get your body moving in the morning. Wherever you incorporate yoga, it will count!