Heart failure can make everyday activities and exercise tough to carry out, but yoga might be a beneficial add-on to standard care.

A new study from India finds this ancient practice improves quality of life and cardio functioning.

“Our patients observed improvement in systolic blood pressure and heart rate compared to patients who were on medication without yoga,” said lead study author Ajit Singh, a research scientist at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. (Systolic blood pressure is the first number in a blood pressure reading.)

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

How might yoga help?

“Yoga is a combination of mind-body techniques, which is a set of physical exercises [asana] with breathing techniques [pranayama], relaxation and meditation that can be effectively used to stimulate physical and mental well-being,” Singh explained in an American College of Cardiology news release.

For the study, the researchers enrolled 75 heart failure patients between the ages of 30 and 70 at a care center in South India. They had received recommended therapy for the previous six months to one year.

Each had what’s called left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) of less than 45%, a sign of mild to moderate dysfunction, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Patients were divided into two groups. One received yoga therapy and guideline-directed medical therapy. The other group continued with standard medical therapy without yoga.

The researchers reviewed their echocardiographic measures at various follow-up times.

The intervention group was led by an experienced yoga therapist, who taught breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques. Each session lasted around 60 minutes. Participants were supervised for one week at the training center before being asked to continue doing yoga at home at least five days a week for 12 months.

The participants completed a quality-of-life questionnaire at enrollment, at 24 weeks and at 48 weeks of follow-up.

Those in the yoga group showed improvement in endurance, strength, balance, symptom stability and quality of life. Patients improved physically and psychologically, but did not show improvement in social and environmental health.

“This study proves that the addition of yoga therapy to standard medical management of heart failure leads to an improvement in left ventricular systolic function and quality of life in heart failure patients,” Singh said.

The study is scheduled for presentation at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology Sept. 29 to 30 in Manila, Philippines. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Before starting a yoga routine, it’s advisable to consult with your doctor.

More information

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has more on yoga.

SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, Sept. 26, 2023