Yoga Helps With a Heart Problem
Yoga could provide significant benefits if you have atrial fibrillation.
My father “Jack” died at 85 years old from cardiovascular disease. Remarkable man, privileged to call Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X friends. With another close friend, he started a community college in Connecticut (USA). A significant loss to me, my family, and all who had the privilege of calling him a friend or colleague.
I suspect atrial fibrillation may have contributed to his stroke. Today, we look at how yoga might be a lifesaver for those with AF, the most common form of an irregular heartbeat. Today we look at some basics of atrial fibrillation before turning to new research showing yoga’s benefits.
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (afib) is a condition that manifests as an irregular (and frequently rapid) heart rate. Having this condition can increase the probability that you will suffer a stroke, heart failure, or other cardiac complications.
Afib is common: One in four middle-aged adults in Europe and the United States will develop atrial fibrillation. The condition is associated with up to 30 percent of strokes.
Here’s how it happens: With atrial fibrillation, the two upper chambers of your heart (the atria) beat chaotically. We use the descriptor irregularly irregular. The atria become rhythmically unliked to the ventricles, the two lower chambers of the heart. If you have afib, you may have shortness of breath, generalized weakness, and palpitations.
During AF, the heart’s two upper chambers beat chaotically — not in coordination with the heart’s two lower chambers (the ventricles). Atrial fibrillation symptoms may include:
- heart palpitations (the sensation of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat)
- shortness of breath
- lightheadedness or dizziness
- chest pain
If you have concerning symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor may order an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) to see if you have atrial fibrillation or a different heart rhythm problem.
If you have pain in your chest, seek emergency medical help as soon as possible. Chest pain sometimes points to a heart attack.
Atrial fibrillation bouts can be intermittent. On the other hand, some who develop afib can see it spontaneously resolve, even with intervention. Atrial fibrillation is a problem that sometimes needs urgent treatment.
One reason for urgency is that without the smooth movement of blood through the heart, clots can develop in the organ’s upper chambers. These blood clots can circulate to distant organs, blocking the normal flow of blood, causing ischemia.Cardioversion is a medical procedure in which atrial fibrillation is converted to a normal rhythm using drugs or electricity. For many, cardioversion works; for others, afib can be permanent.
Now, we have a study that hints at the promise of yoga. An analysis of 538 patients discovered yoga cut the number of symptoms of atrial fibrillation in half. Here’s what the participants did:
- For 12 weeks, they did no yoga.
- They then attended 30-minute sessions (performing specific postures and breathing exercises) every other day for 16 weeks. Researchers encouraged subjects to practice these movements at home daily during the intervention phase.
During both study periods, the researchers tracked symptoms and episodes of atrial fibrillation in a diary. Some also wore a heart monitor to verify atrial fibrillation episodes.
The results, presented last month at the 2020 European Society of Cardiology meeting, were quite striking:
When not performing the exercises, participants had an average of 15 symptomatic episodes of atrial fibrillation. Yoga dropped the incidence to eight episodes, while also lowering blood pressure.
While not a panacea, yoga may meaningfully add to usual medical care. Thank you for joining me today.
The American Heart Association offers some tips on atrial fibrillation risk reduction. Learn more here:
Lifestyle Strategies for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)
To reduce your risk for the onset of AFib, maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle is always your best option. If you…
I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Thank you for joining me today.