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 atrial fibrillation.
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 triggers.
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
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