People in midlife who regularly practice yoga are less likely to gain weight than those who do not practice yoga, according to a study published in the July–August issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (2005; 11 [4], 28–33).

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle studied 15,550 adults ages 53–57 years from 2000 to 2002. The investigators found that both overweight and normal-weight adults who practiced yoga regularly for at least 4 years were less likely to gain weight than nonpractitioners of the same age. Researchers based findings on self-reports from participants regarding diet, health and weight at recruitment and at ages 30 and 45.

Since these data were from observation only, the researchers could not explain why patterns differed between the two groups. It had nothing to do with burning calories, said Alan Kristal, co-author of the study: “Except for very strenuous yoga practices, you don’t really burn enough energy to make any difference in terms of weight.” Some practitioners suggest that by developing balance and harmony, yoga promotes effective stress management and reduces the likelihood of stress eating. Others speculate that since yoga practitioners are taught to respect the body, they are less likely to overeat or to eat junk food.