Yoga training has always been thought of as a healthy activity, but now a study has the scientific findings to prove it. In a first-of-its-kind study, Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of Kansas Hospital, Kansas, USA, and others evaluated the role of yoga in the management of atrial fibrillation.
The study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that rigorous practice of yoga can help reduce episodes of irregular heartbeat and improve the symptoms of anxiety and depression often associated with atrial fibrillation. On average, yoga was found to cut patients’ episodes of atrial fibrillation in half and significantly improve quality of life.
“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 Lakkireddy, 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.”
Researchers followed 49 patients with atrial fibrillation who had no physical limitations. During the first three-month control phase, participants were permitted to engage in any type of physical activity they were previously accustomed to doing. This was followed by a three-month study phase where patients participated in a supervised yoga programme consisting of breathing exercises, yoga postures, meditation and relaxation.
Forty-five minute yoga sessions were administered by a certified professional three times a week over the course of the study phase. Participants were also given an educational DVD and encouraged to practice the exercises at home on a daily basis depending on their comfort levels. All participants were new to the practice of yoga, and the programme was designed to allow beginners to progress safely from basic movements to more advanced practice over the course of the study.
Data showed the yoga intervention significantly reduced the number of episodes of irregular heart beat among atrial fibrillation patients during the study phase compared to the control phase where subjects were participating in the physical activity of their choice. Yoga also reduced 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’ heart beat 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 as a complementary therapy in the overall treatment strategy for atrial fibrillation and other complex heart rhythm disorders.