Yoga: Heart protective enough even for heart failure

Not only is yoga a proven stress reliever, it’s great for both brain and heart health. It also helps with balance, strength, flexibility and mood.

But what if your heart isn’t healthy? Is yoga still a good fit for you?

Yoga has been tested in patients with congestive heart failure (CHF), and it was found that doing yoga two times a week for eight weeks reduced edema and depressed mood and improved quality of life in those patients.

But it hasn’t been clear, is whether those effects would hold over a longer period of time — and what impact, if any, it would have on heart function…

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Yoga stands the test of time

In heart failure, the heart muscle is either too weak or too stiff to pump properly. This often leads to a buildup of fluid, shortness of breath and other complications.

Researchers studied 75 heart failure patients at a care center in South India who underwent coronary intervention, revascularization or device therapy within the previous six to 12 months.

All the patients were less than or equal to NYHA Class III (a measuring system of patients’ physical activity limitations, with Class I being the least severe and Class IV being the most) and had been on optimized therapy for at least six months to a year.

The patients were between the ages of 30 and 70 and had a left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) of less than 45 percent. Ejection fraction measures how effectively the heart is operating.

They were divided into two groups: an interventional group that received yoga therapy and guideline-directed medical therapy, and a non-interventional group that continued with standard guideline-directed medical therapy alone. The researchers then measured and compared echocardiographic parameters at various follow-ups.

Those in the yoga intervention group were taught techniques for pranayama (breathing), meditation and relaxation. Each session lasted around 60 minutes, and participants were supervised for one week before being asked to continue practicing yoga at home on their own. They were advised to perform yoga at least five days a week for 12 months.

Based on a questionnaire measuring the quality of life in four areas — physical, psychological, social and environmental health — completed at the start of the study, and reassessed at 24 and 48 weeks, participants in the yoga group had improvement in endurance, strength, balance, symptom stability and quality of life. While they improved physically and psychologically, there was no improvement in social and environmental health.

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But here’s where things get interesting…

Echocardiographic parameters for both groups were roughly the same at baseline. However, at the six- and 12-month follow-up, the yoga group showed improved biventricular systolic function compared with the non-interventional group. Functional outcomes under NHYA classification were also improved in the yoga group.

To put it more plainly, the yoga group saw an improvement in heart function over the group that didn’t practice yoga.

“Our patients observed improvement in systolic blood pressure and heart rate compared to patients who were on medication without yoga,” says lead author Dr. Ajit Singh, research scientist for the Indian Council for Medical Research at Kasturba Medical College & Hospital, Manipal Academy of Heart Education in Manipal, India.

How to get started

Dr. Singh noted that the study shows yoga therapy may improve physical well-being and left ventricular function among heart failure patients who are undergoing guideline-directed optimal medical therapy.

If you’re someone with heart failure and you want to try yoga, talk to your doctor first. They’ll be able to assess your physical condition and let you know if it’s safe for you to practice on your own, or if you need to work with a trained instructor that understands your condition.

Just remember that there are certain asanas (poses) you should avoid if you have heart failure. Don’t do asanas that work your heart too rigorously or those that cause your body to be inverted. Inverted poses cause your heart to have to work against gravity to supply blood to your legs and hands, exerting more pressure on the muscles. Your yoga teacher can help you figure out which asanas you need to skip during your practice.

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1. Yoga improves quality of life, cardiovascular function in heart failure patients — EurekAlert!

2. Which Asanas to Avoid if Suffering from Heart Disease — Max Healthcare

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.