Is There A Difference Between Yoga And Exercise?

Exercise (and a healthy diet) is essential for maintaining physical health, as it keeps your body in tip-top shape. Regularly challenging your body through exercise strengthens your heart, muscles, and bones, keeping various diseases and conditions at bay. Given the importance of an active lifestyle, you might begin to wonder what qualifies as exercise.

Key Points:

  • Exercise is defined as physical activities that help maintain and improve physical fitness.
  • Common benefits of regular exercise include improved mental health, better sleep quality, decreased risk of disease, and enhanced longevity.
  • Yoga is a spiritual practice with physical components which emphasizes creating harmony between the body and mind; common benefits include improved flexibility, stress relief, and improved concentration.

Is exercise specific to a particular type of training, or does anything count? Does yoga fit under the umbrella of “exercise?” Let’s find out!

What Is Exercise?

Before we start breaking down this topic, we need to outline each piece of the puzzle. To start, let’s look at exercise. Exercise, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.”

We can look at definitions across the board, and while most vary slightly, they share the same meaning. For instance, according to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), exercise can be defined as a planned, structured, or repetitive subset of physical activity with the ultimate goal of improving or maintaining physical fitness levels.

So, as we can tell from these definitions, exercise is simply the act of exerting the body to better oneself in physical fitness. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no particular style that commands the definition of the word, like weight lifting, yoga, or crossfit.

Benefits Of Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity, particularly exercise, offers a wealth of benefits, both physical and psychological. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), regular exercise offers the following benefits:

  • Aids in reducing depression and anxiety
  • Helps with sleep quality
  • Aids in weight loss and maintenance
  • Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces risk of developing type two diabetes
  • Helps manage blood sugar (glucose)
  • Reduces risk of developing metabolic syndrome
  • Can lower the risk for certain types of cancer, including bladder, breast, and colon
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Increases chances of living longer
  • Improves ability to handle daily activities, including climbing stairs and grocery shopping
  • Reduces fall risk
  • Helps manage chronic health conditions and disabilities

What Is Yoga?

Today, the western world knows yoga as a physical practice involving deep breathing, soothing asanas, and invigorating flows. However, yoga is more than the physical aspect. On top of the physical practice, yoga is a mental and spiritual practice dating back to ancient times.

The practice originated in India, initially codified by the safe Patanjali through his Yoga Sutras. It has meandered through the ages, passed down through generations by teachers and students. Yoga originally focused on the spiritual aspect, but throughout the years, it’s evolved to incorporate mental and physical components as well.

Today, yoga prioritizes the creation of harmony between the body and mind, encouraging a peaceful equilibrium. It weaves invigorating physical flows with deep breathing and concentration for a beautifully intertwined practice that promotes the health and well-being of the body and mind.

Benefits Of Yoga

Like exercise as a whole, yoga offers an extensive range of benefits. While the exact listings vary from one source to another, many lists share the same benefits. The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) outlines various advantages of regular yoga practice, including the following:

  • Helps manage stress
  • May relieve depression and anxiety
  • Can help improve mental clarity and calmness
  • Increases body awareness
  • Sharpens concentration
  • Relaxes the mind and centers the attention
  • Improves flexibility
  • Increases muscle strength and tone
  • Helps with weight loss and maintenance
  • Helps improve athletic performance
  • Improves cardio and circulatory health
  • Improves respiration, energy, and vitality
  • Aids in maintaining a balanced metabolism

Is Yoga Equal To Exercise?

Based on the definitions we reviewed earlier, yoga can be considered exercise. It is an equivalent of exercise, as it’s a form of bodily exertion done with the intention of improving physical fitness.

As mentioned, the term “exercise” isn’t restricted by its definition to a particular style. Instead, the word serves as an umbrella term to encompass varying styles, including yoga. Exercise can include various approaches, including running, biking, playing a sport, weight training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), bodyweight training, and more.

According to National Institute on Aging (NIA), exercise can be divided into four categories: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Yoga can fit into all four categories, although it depends on the class you choose.

For example, one yoga class might offer strength and endurance training, but it might not focus as much on flexibility or balance. On the flip side, another yoga class may prioritize balance but gloss over the other categories. So, it all depends on the type of yoga you do.

It’s important to get in plenty of exercises in each category, as each plays a significant role in a well-rounded fitness routine.

Focus Of Yoga

For the most part, yoga classes focus on and improve strength, balance, and flexibility, so they count as exercise. Some classes are quicker-paced, while others slow things down and take time through each movement. Given the nature of most yoga classes, you can consider them to be a form of exercise.

Of course, some yoga classes might not challenge you. Instead, you might find yourself more relaxed than challenged, which is okay. While these classes may not raise your heart rate enough to count towards the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, practicing is well worth the benefit.

Which Is Better, Yoga Or Exercise?

Yoga is exercise, but exercise isn’t always yoga. Because of this, one isn’t necessarily better. It all comes down to personal preference and what type of exercise you’re referring to. For example, if you prefer the sweat-soaked, heart-pounding, muscle-burning intensity of a grueling leg-focused weights session, you might not enjoy the slower approach of yoga.

On the flip side, if you enjoy working with your body weight to build strength and flexibility, you might prefer yoga over weight training. Each exercise approach has its place, and some folks may find they appreciate certain types more than others. So, it all comes down to your exercise preferences.

Find what works best for you. If you prefer one training style over another and it works well for your fitness goals, stick with it. Or, if you’re open to trying new training styles, mix it up by incorporating different workouts throughout your training regime. You might decide to combine weights and yoga, or maybe you stick with purely yoga-based classes.

As you figure out your exercise preference, remember to listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain, as pushing yourself too hard can lead to injuries. Work within your fitness level, only pushing as far as you can without overtaxing yourself. It’s better to slowly build your strength and endurance, as pushing your body too hard without proper rest and recovery can open the door to exhaustion, injuries, and sickness (like more frequent colds).