New research shows people with a common heart rhythm problem may benefit from doing yoga. Reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on January 30, it’s one of the first to test the effects of yoga on the heart condition, known as atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation happens when the heart’s upper chambers quiver chaotically instead of contracting like normal. It is not dangerous but can cause symptoms like palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness. Over the long run, it can also raise the risk of strokes or heart failure.
While experts are saying more research is needed to find the report promising, W. Todd Cade, a physical therapy researcher from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says, “This may be something they should consider. Yoga could be a beneficial treatment for people with atrial fibrillation. Obviously they should talk to their doctor before they start a program.”
“There are a lot of other benefits of yoga, and there aren’t a lot of negatives,” he added.
The new study included 49 people who had AF (atrial fibrillation) for an average of five years. For three months, research led by Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy from the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City tracked study volunteers’ heart symptoms and their blood pressure and heart rate, as well as their anxiety, depression and general quality of life.
During the second trial phase of the study, researchers had the participants go to group yoga classes at least twice a week for an additional three months, with the same reporting done on their symptoms and quality of life. All of the patients were on stable medications throughout the study period.
The irregular heart rhythm dropped from four times during the first three months down to twice during the yoga phase of the trial. Confirmed by a heart monitor, their average heart rate also fell from 67 beats per minute at the start of the study to between 61 and 62 bpm post-yoga.
Participants’ anxiety scores declined from an average of 34, on a scale of 20 to 80, to 25 after three months of yoga, Lakkireddy and his colleagues reported Wednesday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
“People feel more empowered, they feel better, they feel stronger,” Cade said. “There are probably a lot of benefits of the yoga besides on atrial fibrillation.”
Researchers reported, “The practice of yoga improves symptoms and arrhythmia burden, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves quality of life in patients with AF. Yoga is an effective complementary and alternative therapy in the management of AF and can be incorporated in comprehensive AF management strategies.”
Lakkireddy told Reuters Health, “Yoga has to be incorporated into daily life, not just picked up for a few months at a time for it to help.” He added, “People with AF shouldn’t expect a cure, but that regular yoga may make their arrhythmia more tolerable and reduce visits to the emergency room when symptoms flare up.”
“A lot of people ask, ‘Can I just do yoga and do nothing else?'” Lakkireddy said. “I think that’s the wrong approach to take. Yoga is not a cure in itself… it is a good adjunct to what else these patients should be doing.”
Medical director of the Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, Dr. Nieca Goldberg advises, “This study used a mild form of yoga. The findings do not speak to all styles of yoga. Some other styles of yoga are more strenuous, like “hot yoga” classes, where the room temperature is kept as high as 105 degrees.”
“We would never recommend hot yoga for a heart patient,” Goldberg stressed.