Health & Fitness
Rhythms of the mind
Published: February 28, 2013
When the electrical system goes awry it can create abnormal rhythms, often referred to as cardiac arrhythmias or dysrhythmias. Many physiological abnormalities can cause cardiac dysrhythmias; electrolyte disturbances, hormonal imbalances, heart attack, trauma and even strokes among many others have been known to interrupt the heart's normal cadence. Animal studies from the middle of the last century demonstrated that by stimulating or disrupting different areas of the brain almost every type of dysrhythmia known could be recreated. These included common arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation (AF).
Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac dysrhythmia and responsible for significant morbidity and healthcare resource expenditure. It can become a burden to patients; requiring drug or multiple drug therapies, pacemaker implantation, invasive ablation procedures and sometimes lifelong anticoagulation therapy with all its attendant risks, lifestyle limitations and burdens. These, obviously, can seriously impact any person's quality of life.
Activities like Tai Chi and yoga have known direct cardiovascular benefits. These pursuits are also associated with an improvement in the quality of life, as measured by quality of life scores (QoL). Yoga, which involves physical exercise, breathing and meditative techniques, can influence the nervous system through autonomic modulation, reduce mental stress and anxiety and reduce depression.
What is not known is the result of positive mental modeling through meditative and functional programs like yoga on the reduction or prevention of dysrhythmias like AF. Recent evidence is emerging that engagement in such activities may act to prevent the recurrence of such dysrhythmias. A recent study looked at this question in patients who suffered from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF).
PAF differs from AF in that the episodes of arrhythmia are intermittent in nature. PAF still carries, like AF, an increased risk of stroke compared to those in a normal rhythm all the time. Additionally, suppression of PAF episodes can be extremely important because the more frequent and longer lasting the episodes of PAF, the more likely the transition from PAF to chronic, continuous atrial fibrillation.
This study looked at almost 50 men and women who had PAF and enrolled them in a 3 month yoga regimen. This study found that regular participation "significantly reduces symptomatic and asymptomatic AF burden, and improves anxiety, depression, resting heart rate and blood pressure and the QoL in patients with PAF."
This is important in terms of public health simply based on the sheer numbers of persons, especially in the older populations who suffer PAF and chronic, continuous AF. At a time where the cost of medical therapies is under scrutiny, a low cost, non-pharmacologic, non-device, non-invasive low cost addition like this should be readily and heartily welcomed. From an individual perspective participation in such an activity has additional health benefits beyond just reducing the AF burden, While a small study, it demonstrates the tremendous impact simply adjusting your mental frame of reference can have upon your entire being; including the very rhythm of your heart.
Michael S. Fenster, MD, an Interventional Cardiologist with Hernando Heart Clinic, is also a professional Chef. He recently signed with the Health and Wellness Channel to host a new show titled "Just What the Doctor Ordered" to be filmed for broadband and cable viewing accessible at HWC.com. For more information visit www.whatscookingwithdoc.com and check out his book, "Eating Well, Living Better: A Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food" is available at Amazon.com and other fine book retailers.