SATURDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- In a small preliminary
study, the ancient art of yoga appeared to halve the number of
episodes of a potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat known as
Three sessions of yoga a week also improved quality of life,
lowering levels of the anxiety and depression which often plagues
patients with this condition, according to research to be presented
Saturday at the annual meeting of the American College of
Cardiology in New Orleans.
"These are exciting results," said Dr. Raul Mitrani, director of the cardiac rhythm device clinic at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Although it didn't cure atrial fibrillation, he added, it did seem to cut the number of "a-fib" episodes.
Prior research had shown other heart benefits of yoga, such as
lower blood pressure and cholesterol and more elastic arteries, but
this is the first study looking specifically at atrial
fibrillation, said the authors, from Mid-America Cardiology at the
University of Kansas Hospital.
Atrial fibrillation, which affects millions of older Americans,
is an irregular heartbeat that greatly raises odds for clotting and
stroke. Treatments tend to be either invasive surgery (to try to
eliminate the abnormality at its origin) or medications that carry
side effects. Some lifestyle tactics are also helpful, Mitrani
said, such as moderating alcohol and caffeine to reduce
In the new trial, 49 patients between the ages of 25 and 70 who
had atrial fibrillation participated in a supervised yoga program,
conducted 45 minutes a week, three times a week for three months.
Sessions involved breathing exercises, various positions (asanas),
meditation and relaxation. The participants were also given an
educational DVD and encouraged to practice daily at home.
During the three months of yoga practice, participants
experienced an average of 2.1 episodes of atrial fibrillation as
compared to an average of 3.8 episodes occurring the three months
prior to the start of classes, when they were exercising but not
yet doing yoga.
"Advanced yogis for a long time have disproven the idea that heart rate that automatically determined by physiological need," noted Dr. Scott Shurmur, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "We know that meditation, yoga etc, really do provide some conscious altering of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This is the first time I've seen results on atrial fibrillation and its tangible evidence."
"Absolutely, yoga can play a role in the management of atrial fibrillation," says Dr. Louis Teichholz, medical director of the cardiac service and chief of complementary medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, who points to the breathing component of yoga -- especially Prana yoga -- as the key ingredient.
"If they had studied heart rate variability, they would have shown this decreases sympathetic nervous system activity," he said. "That comes with fear and fright. A sudden burst of adrenaline in a susceptible individual will trigger arrhythmia."
A second study being presented at the meeting backed up the
value of exercise in general for heart health.
Texas researchers report that a lifetime of regular exercise
keeps the human heart flexible and strong, well over retirement
In fact, long-term exercise actually preserves heart muscle
mass, keeping it at the same level as a sedentary person aged 25 to
34, the team estimated.
In the study, people over the age of 65 who reported having
exercised consistently over their lifetime actually managed to
preserve left ventricular mass. The left ventricle of the heart is
involved in pumping and normally gets smaller as you age.
The folks in this study had exercised six or seven times a week
as adults but the researchers, from the University of
Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, believe that getting
people in the midrange of their life -- 45 to 60 -- could help
prevent heart failure and other cardiac problems which tend to
appear as you get older.
Experts stress that data presented at medical meetings has not
undergone the rigorous peer review that is conducted when research
is published in medical journals and should be considered
Find out more about atrial fibrillation at the
American Heart Association.
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