JAIPUR, India — Atrial fibrillation, or a persistent irregular heartbeat, can be a particularly upsetting condition. Feeling like your heart is about to beat out of your chest isn’t exactly pleasant, and that’s not even mentioning the dizziness and chest pains that often accompany an episode of AFib. Now, though, a new study finds a novel new way for AFib patients to find relief: yoga.
Both yoga postures and breathing techniques helped a group of AFib patients take control of their condition. While taking a yoga class, study participants experienced fewer episodes and milder symptoms in general.
“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,” says study author Dr. Naresh Sen of HG SMS Hospital, in a release. “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.”
A typical bout of AFib is characterized by heart palpitations, a racing pulse, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and fatigue. Moreover, atrial fibrillation is unsettlingly common in the United States and Europe. A staggering one in every four middle-aged adults from these areas will develop AFib.
Of course, besides all the symptoms mentioned above, an irregular heartbeat also raises one’s risk of heart attack and stroke considerably. For instance, it’s estimated that 20% to 30% of all strokes are caused by atrial fibrillation.
AFib episodes nearly cut in half during yoga course
For this research, a total of 538 AFib patients participated between 2012 and 2017. To start, each person was specifically told not to practice any yoga for 12 weeks (to establish a control reading for heart health). Then, patients enrolled in a 16-week yoga course entailing 30-minute sessions every other day. Participants were also encouraged to practice the yoga breathing techniques and poses at home during their free time.
During both of these periods participants were also asked to keep a diary of any and all AFib symptoms. A few patients even wore heart monitors, while everyone underwent periodic heart rate and blood pressure exams. Finally, each participant also filled out an anxiety and depression survey and questionnaire.
With all of this data in hand, researchers compared patients’ overall heart health and specific AFib symptoms before starting yoga training to after classes had started.
While taking the yoga class, patients showed significant improvements across “all areas” in comparison to the pre-yoga period. Before starting the class, patients averaged 15 symptomatic episodes of atrial fibrillation over a 12-week period. Well, during the 16-week course, patients only averaged eight symptomatic episodes.
Participants’ average blood pressure was also 11/6 mmHg lower after learning yoga.
This research was presented in August 2020 at the ESC Congress 2020.