Recent research presented at the ESC Congress 2020 revealed that yoga postures and breathwork may help patients with atrial fibrillation—a common heart rhythm disorder—manage their symptoms.
For perspective, one in four middle-aged adults in Europe and the U.S. will develop the condition, which causes 20%-30% of all strokes, with 10%-40% of patients hospitalized each year and resulting in reduced quality of life. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include palpitations, racing or irregular pulse, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and dizziness. "The symptoms of atrial fibrillation can be distressing. They come and go, causing many patients to feel anxious and limiting their ability to live a normal life," noted study author Dr. Naresh Sen of HG SMS Hospital in Jaipur, India.
This study examined 538 patients with atrial fibrillation from 2012 to 2017. For 12 weeks, they did no yoga, then for 16 weeks they attended 30-minute yoga sessions every other day. During that time, the participants were also encouraged to practice the movements and breathwork at home. For both periods, patients recorded their symptoms in a daily diary; some wore heart monitors; they filled out questionnaires about their anxiety, depression and ability to perform activities and socialize; and their heart rate and blood pressure was measured.
When the researchers compared outcomes between the yoga and non-yoga periods, they found that the patients experienced significant symptom improvement in all areas during the yoga period. For example, patients experienced an average of 15 symptomatic episodes during the non-yoga period, compared to only 8 episodes when they were practicing yoga. The average blood pressure was 11/6 mmHg lower after yoga training, as well.
"Our study suggests that yoga has wide-ranging physical and mental health benefits for patients with atrial fibrillation and could be added on top of usual therapies," concluded Dr. Sen.