Yoga May Help Improve Symptoms For Heart Patients, Research Finds

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
 Yoga May Help Improve Symptoms For Heart Patients, Research Finds

While yoga can increase flexibility and build muscle, its benefits go beyond a traditional workout. The restorative exercise practice has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, and according to new research, it may also improve symptoms for patients with heart disease. 

Research presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2020 found both yoga postures and breathing techniques can help patients with atrial fibrillation manage symptoms. 

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder, often referred to as AFib. So common, in fact, that one in four adults in the U.S. and Europe will develop the disease. The condition leads to strokes in about 20% to 30% of cases and increases the risk of death, according to a study in the European Heart Journal. 

Aside from the risk factors, symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as heart palpitations, racing or irregular pulse, shortness of breath, tiredness, chest pain, and dizziness can be disruptive to daily life. "They come and go, causing many patients to feel anxious and limiting their ability to live a normal life," study author Naresh Sen, M.D., Ph.D., said in a news release. 

Due to its prevalence, researchers wanted to examine alternative and accessible treatment options to improve the quality of life of people living with the condition. 

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What did the research find?

To study whether yoga was effective in managing symptoms of AFib, researchers looked at 538 patients between 2012 and 2017. Participants did not do any yoga for the first 12 weeks.

For the following 16 weeks, they practiced yoga, with both postures and breathing techniques, for 30 minutes every other day. On the days they didn't attend yoga class, the participants were encouraged to practice at home. 

To compare the two periods, participants kept diary logs tracking their AFib symptoms, received heart rate and blood pressure measurements, and completed surveys on their anxiety, depression, and mood levels. 

When practicing yoga, participants experienced an average of eight symptomatic episodes, compared to 15 when they weren't practicing yoga. They also had a lower average blood pressure after yoga. 

Bottom line.

"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," Sen says. 

If you're interested in starting yoga for physical or mental health reasons, this beginner's guide to the practice is a good place to start. 

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