Are Yogis Or Runners Healthier?

We weigh the health benefits and environmental impacts of two of our favorite ways to feel healthy and happy.

April 29, 2016
foot stretching on the beach
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Is something like yoga, which is focused more on balance, strength, and flexibility, rather than aerobic exercise, enough to keep us fit? Or should we all be strapping on our running shoes a couple of times a week to really get our hearts pumping? To find out, we put the two activities to a side-by-side comparison in three categories: physical fitness, mental wellbeing, and environmental impact. Here are the results.

PHYSICAL FITNESS

In general, yoga won’t get your heart rate up as high or for as long a period of time as running does, an obvious downside. For this reason, it’s hard to say whether yoga is 100 percent a workout, and studies that have looked into it are mostly small and inconclusive. The truth is it all depends on your style of practice and how often you do it. For example, more vigorous classes such as Power Yoga and advanced vinyasa certainly get the heart pumping because they move faster than, say, Yin Yoga or Iyengar, which tend to have you hold single poses for minutes at a time. On the other hand, yoga does have the potential to be more of a full-body workout than running since it engages the arms as well as the legs, but again, it depends on your practice.

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Related: The 3 Safest Ways To Stretch Tight Hamstrings

“Yoga is designed to help balance your body—stretch what is tight and strengthen what is weak,” explains Christine Felstead, a marathoner-turned-yoga teacher and author of Yoga for Runners. “If you do yoga where you just stretch all the time, you don’t get the strength component.”

 

A photo posted by Christine Felstead (@yogaforrunners) on

 

MENTAL WELLBEING

It turns out that running and yoga actually have very similar perks when it comes to mental health. Yoga is all about meditative breathing, which has a number of healthy benefits including reducing stress and anxiety and lowering blood pressure. Runners experience something very similar when they strike a rhythm, especially during long runs. Budd Coates, author of the Runner’s World book Running On Air, explains that matching your breath to your cadence when running is much the same as syncing your breath to your movements as you transition from one yoga pose to another. “Some runners even create mantras around their breath,” he adds.

Related: The Healthiest Way To Breathe

On the other hand, running can be competitive, and while healthy competition can push you to be your best, it can also lead to negative feelings of failure if you can’t perform the way you'd hoped. “It’s hard to put all runners one category, but I think with running a sense of dissatisfaction is more common if you’re not meeting your goals,” says Felstead. That may be simply because races are structured to have winners and losers, though the yoga world does have competitions, too. However, Felstead says that good yoga teachers will make it a point to encourage students to listen to their bodies and be happy with what they’re able to do in the moment.

 

beginning of race
101 Degrees West Photography

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

Running and yoga are both relatively low-impact sports when it comes to the health of the planet. Both activities can be done almost anywhere—you don’t need special turf or courts. Yogis can easily practice in their homes or backyards, though they might also drive to a studio. Similarly, you can run straight out your front door, but sometimes you may want to take advantage of a trail or track that requires you to get in the car.

However, yoga does have a slight eco-friendly edge when it comes to gear. Some heavy-duty yoga mats are designed to last a lifetime (or at least several decades) with proper care, while those made with natural fibers may need to be replaced every five years or so, according to Lauren Halley, a representative of the Barefoot Yoga Company. That’s a lot longer than most runners can keep their sneakers (which should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles). Coates notes you can donate or recycle them.

Related: Vinyasa Gear For Mindful Beginners

Yogis will also have an easier time finding organic clothing, simply because most runners will prefer sweat-wicking synthetics while many yoga practitioners like breathable cotton. However, lightweight organic knits made from merino wool are becoming popular with runners—they’re said to be both sweat-wicking and antimicrobial.

AND THE WINNER IS…

It’s really close, but yoga seems to have one up on running when it comes to mental health and environmental impact, but both activities are really what you make of them on an individual level. The big takeaway is that they actually complement each other very well. Yoga allows you to work muscles that running doesn't engage and stretch the ones that tighten up because of running. Yoga’s also great for balance and flexibility, while running gives you an important cardio boost.

The best part? Yoga can save you from getting injured on a run. “When you run, you have imbalances in the leg muscles and back and core because you use some muscles a lot and others not so much,” says Felstead. “So many injuries can be avoided by balancing your body with yoga.”

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