Breathe Deeply and Improve Your Heart Health

Yoga improves paroxysmal atrial fibrillation patients' quality of life, heart rate, blood pressure


You probably know someone who raves about the benefits of yoga. Many yoga fans say that it's as much a spiritual exercise as a physical one. However, new research suggests that practicing yoga provides very real physical benefits.

According to a press release issued by the European Society of Cardiology, a new study found that yoga improves quality of life in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AF). It may also decrease heart rate and blood pressure.

AF is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of AF include irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, extreme fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pain. AF can occur in episodes or be a chronic condition.

According to the press release, AF affects about 1.5 to 2 percent of the population in the developed world. There is no cure for AF, and most treatments focus on relieving symptoms and preventing complications, such as a stroke. Episodes usually last less than 48 hours and stop by themselves, though some last as long as a week.

"Many patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation can't live their lives as they want to," lead author Maria Wahlström said in the press release. "They refuse dinners with friends, concerts, and traveling because they are afraid of an AF episode occurring."

Wahlström is a nurse and PhD candidate at Sophiahemmet University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 80 people with AF and randomly assigned them to a yoga group and a control group. Patients in the yoga group did one hour of yoga a week for 12 weeks in the hospital with a trained instructor. The program included light movements, deep breathing and meditation.

Both before and after the study, researchers measured the patients’ quality of life (physical and mental health), heart rate and blood pressure. To assess quality of life, researchers asked the patients to complete two validated questionnaires.

The researchers found that after the 12-week study, the yoga group had higher mental health scores, lower heart rate and lower blood pressure than the control group.

“It could be that the deep breathing balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, leading to less variation in heart rate,” Wahlström said in the press release. “The breathing and movement may have beneficial effects on blood pressure."

The study found that the yoga group scored higher on both of the questionnaires that assessed quality of life than the control group, which experienced no change.

"Yoga may improve quality of life in patients with paroxysmal AF because it gives them a method to gain some self control over their symptoms instead of feeling helpless," Wahlström said. Patients in the yoga group said it felt good to let go of their thoughts and just be inside themselves for awhile."

The researchers have begun another study that separates AF patients into three groups—yoga, music relaxation and a control group. They hope the study will clarify whether or not the deep breathing and movement of yoga are beneficial or just the relaxation component.

The full study is published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

It was funded by Fondmedel 176 KI, Stockholm, Sweden. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.