Yoga May Ease Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • The results of a recent study suggest yoga may alleviate symptoms in individuals with atrial fibrillation.
  • More specifically, a regular yoga practice could help regulate arrhythmias and decrease their severity.
  • Yoga aids with heart conditions by relieving the physiological effects of chronic stress.

Yoga is known for its numerous health benefits, including stress reduction, improved strength, and better flexibility. Now, a 2020 study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress has revealed it may also aid in the fight against heart disease. The findings revealed that starting a yoga practice could help regulate the heart rhythm of individuals with atrial fibrillation, as well as provide an overall improvement of health.

Atrial fibrillation is a condition that causes a rapid, irregular heartbeat. The heart's upper and lower chambers are out of sync, which leads to palpitations. So far, long-term treatments for this condition include medication and/or an invasive heart surgery. Neither treatment is without substantial side effects. This is why the exploration of non-invasive treatments like yoga is especially appealing.

What the Study Found

In conducting this study, 538 patients were enrolled between 2012 and 2017. For the first 12 weeks, patients practiced no yoga. Then for 16 weeks, patients did 30 minutes of yoga every other day, including breathing and posture exercises. They were also encouraged to take up practicing at home. During the study, patients wore heart monitors and kept a journal of any irregular heart rates.

The results of this study were impressive and showed a reduction of symptoms of atrial fibrillation as well as an overall improvement of quality of life, which included symptoms related to mental health, depression, and anxiety.

Participants' hallmark symptoms, episodes of irregular heart rate, decreased over the course of the study. During the 12-week non-yoga period, they had an average of 15 episodes. The average decreased to eight episodes during the 16-week yoga period. In addition, average blood pressure readings were 11/6 mmHg lower during the yoga period. The study participants also noted an overall improvement of well-being.

Prevalence of Heart Disease in the US

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the US, with one person dying every 36 seconds. Various lifestyle factors such as poor diet, smoking, and lack of physical activity contribute to this statistic. Stress is another key contributor, as well as diabetes and hypertension, which can be linked to chronic stress.

Atrial fibrillation is a particularly common condition in individuals prone to heart disease. It normally requires drugs, surgery, or electric cardioversion (applying electric shocks to "reset" one's heartbeat) in order to treat it. This new study suggests that yoga could allow patients to manage some of their symptoms on their own.

Naresh Sen, MD

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.

— Naresh Sen, MD

According to study author Dr. Naresh Sen of HG SMS Hospital, Jaipur, India, “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." The study points out that one in four middle-aged Americans and Europeans suffer from the condition, and it is responsible for 20-30% of strokes.

Yoga and Cardiovascular Health

To understand why yoga is such a useful tool for self-care, one must understand the physiological roots of many cases of heart disease. Diabetes and hypertension are known to cause atrial fibrillation. These conditions can be triggered by weathering, which is measured through the allostatic load and can be defined as a health deterioration caused by constant adversity.

Olivia Affuso
, PhD, explains, “Allostatic load is the accumulation of stress on the body and is sometimes referred to as a measure of 'wear and tear.' The body is always trying to maintain balance, and the term 'allostasis' is used to describe this process for buffering the stress response which may be activated psychologically or environmentally. When an individual faces repeated or chronic exposure to stress, it can result in allostatic overload, which has been associated with many negative health outcomes.” 

Olivia Affuso, MPH

Yoga, as well as other forms of exercise, even in small spurts, can help to alleviate the effects of wear and tear on the body.

— Olivia Affuso, MPH

In comes yoga, which has been considered to be mind-body medicine for the last 3,000 years. Unlike other forms of exercise, there is a type for everyone. It is low impact and requires breathwork and focus, which can help to regulate an erratic heart rhythm. Affuso believes that "Yoga, as well as other forms of exercise, even in small spurts, can help to alleviate the effects of wear and tear on the body."

A 2011 study explains, “Yoga is a form of mind-body fitness that involves a combination of muscular activity and an internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy.” It goes on to say that it can alleviate physical and emotional pain. Yoga also has the ability to act as an antidepressant and can decrease cortisol levels. A large amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, is what increases your body’s allostatic load. 

Dr. Sen concluded: "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."

What This Means for You

Yoga, partnered with stress management and following the prescribed treatment plan, has real potential when it comes to altering the course of heart disease. It could make it easier to manage symptoms and outcomes and allow you to live a fuller, more comfortable life.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011;4(2):49-54. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85485

  2. European Society of Cardiology. Yoga linked with improved symptoms in heart patients [Press release].

  3. Gutierrez C, Blanchard DG. Diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(6):442-52.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease facts.

  5. Macit MS, Acar-Tek N. Current perspectives for diabetes and allostatic load: the role of nutrition. Curr Nutr Food Sci. 2018;14:1-7. doi:10.2174/1573401314666180620164859

By Tonya Russell
Tonya Russell is a Philadelphia-based journalist with a passion for mental health, wellness, and culture.