Rigorous practice of yoga can help reduce episodes of irregular heartbeat and improve the symptoms of anxiety and depression often associated with atrial fibrillation, a new study has found.
On average, yoga cut patients' episodes of atrial fibrillation in half and significantly improved quality of life, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology's 60th Annual Scientific Session.
Previous research has demonstrated the positive impact of yoga on overall heart health, but this is the first study to examine the benefits of yoga specifically on patients with atrial fibrillation.
"The practice of yoga is known to improve many risk factors for heart disease including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, and stress and inflammation in the body," said Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Excellence in Atrial Fibrillation, Cardiovascular Research Institute, Mid America Cardiology, University of Kansas Hospital, Kansas City, Kansas and lead investigator of the study. "There are currently no proven complementary therapies that are known to help decrease the symptoms of atrial fibrillation in a noninvasive fashion with minimal side effects and reasonable safety and efficacy."
In this study, researchers followed 49 patients with atrial fibrillation who had no physical limitations and who were new to the practice of yoga. For three months, participants were permitted to engage in any type of physical activity they were previously accustomed to doing. This was followed by a three-month period during which they participated in a supervised yoga program consisting of breathing exercises, yoga postures, meditation and relaxation. Forty-five-minute yoga sessions were administered by a certified professional three times a week. Participants were also given an educational DVD and encouraged to practice the exercises at home on a daily basis, depending on their comfort levels.
Lakkireddy found that the three-month yoga intervention significantly reduced the number of episodes of irregular heartbeat among atrial fibrillation patients compared with the initial three-month period during which subjects were participating in the physical activity of their choice. Yoga also reduced self-reported depression and anxiety scores and improved quality of life scores in the areas of physical functioning, general health, vitality, social functioning and mental health.
"These findings are important because many of the current conventional treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation include invasive procedures or medications with undesirable side effects. Success with these therapies varies widely, and they are often only modestly effective in controlling heart rhythm," Lakkireddy said. "It appears yoga has a significant impact on helping to regulate patients' heartbeat and improves their overall quality of life. Any intervention that helps in reducing or controlling the arrhythmia burden in atrial fibrillation can have a huge impact on public health."
Given the low cost, safety and effectiveness of yoga, the authors recommend that it be considered in the overall treatment strategy for atrial fibrillation and other complex heart rhythm disorders.