Yoga has been known for centuries to provide health benefits. These benefits include increased flexibility and mobility, increased body tone and strength, improved posture, improved physical conditioning, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, among others. But did you know that these benefits also extend to heart health?
Studies have shown that regular practitioners of yoga experience a positive effect on their autonomic nervous system (the system that regulates the “fight or flight” response). This takes the form of lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, less heart rate elevation in response to stress, and decreased release of stress hormones—contributing to a more relaxed state of being overall.
These cardiovascular benefits of yoga have even been shown to extend to the most common cardiac rhythm disorder (also known as an arrhythmia): atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal cardiac rhythm in which the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, send multiple, rapid, abnormal signals to the electrical conduction system of the heart, causing it to beat irregularly. Known as the “irregularly irregular rhythm,” atrial fibrillation increases a patient’s risk for stroke—by at least a 5 times greater risk!—due to the tendency for blood clots to form in the heart when it is not beating in a regular rhythm. These blood clots can then be sent to the brain with the next heartbeat, causing a stroke. It is for this reason that all patients who have atrial fibrillation are advised to take some form of blood-thinning medication.
Last year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (March 19, 2013 issue), Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy and colleagues published results from the YOGA My Heart Study, which looked at the influence of yoga on atrial fibrillation, as well as on quality of life, depression, and anxiety. These researchers found that yoga training improved not only symptoms of atrial fibrillation, but the actual frequency of monitored atrial fibrillation episodes (known as “arrhythmia burden”)! Additionally, the researchers discovered that yoga training decreased heart rate as well as blood pressure, confirming earlier results from other studies.
The YOGA My Heart Study also showed that yoga practice can result in significant improvements in quality of life as well as lower anxiety and depression scores in patients with atrial fibrillation. The study authors concluded that “yoga is an effective complementary and alternative therapy in the management of [atrial fibrillation].”
You can learn more about the practice of yoga and how to get the most out of your own yoga practice by reading two detailed articles by TodaysFitnessTrainer.com on the topic (“10 Ways to Elevate Your Yoga Practice” – part one and two).
Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP, is President of Nashville Preventive Cardiology, PLLC, in Nashville, TN. She is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease, as well as in clinical lipidology and nuclear cardiology. She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and of the American College of Physicians. She graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2001, and has made it her career’s work to follow her passion for preventing cardiovascular disease and improving heart health for as many people as possible. In addition, Dr. Ali is also the Physician Expert for the Obesity site for www.obesity.about.com. Each month she will be contributing an educational piece on preventing cardiovascular disease. To learn more about Dr. Ali, visit www.preventivecardio.com.