If you practise yoga to help increase your flexibility or to feel more relaxed and at peace with the world, you could be doing your heart a power of good too. And while experts already believe yoga can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, a new study suggests it can halve your risk of the common but potentially dangerous problem of irregular heartbeat.
Researchers from the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City studied 49 patients with a heart rhythm disorder called artrial fibrillation. This can cause blood to pool in the heart, which can lead to a clot that travels to the brain, causing a stroke.
None of the volunteers had any prior experience of practising yoga. But for three months they took part in classes that involved breathing exercises, yoga postures, relaxation and meditation. As well as the three 45-minute yoga classes they took part in each week, they were also encouraged to practice yoga at home.
Throughout the trial, the volunteers were hooked up to heart monitors so that episodes of irregular heartbeat could be recorded. They also completed surveys to assess their levels of anxiety, depression and overall quality of life.
At the end of the study period the researchers discovered the volunteers, on average, had experienced half their usual rate of irregular heartbeat episodes while practising yoga. Their questionnaires also suggested they were significantly less anxious and depressed than before, while their general health, vitality, social life and mental health had all also improved.
The research has just been presented at the conference of the American College of Cardiology.