Objectives: Since ageing is associated with a decline in pulmonary function, heart rate variability and spontaneous baroreflex, and recent studies suggest that yoga respiratory exercises may improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, we hypothesised that yoga respiratory training may improve respiratory function and cardiac autonomic modulation in healthy elderly subjects.
Design: 76 healthy elderly subjects were enrolled in a randomised control trial in Brazil and 29 completed the study (age 68 ± 6 years, 34% males, body mass index 25 ± 3 kg/m²). Subjects were randomised into a 4-month training program (2 classes/week plus home exercises) of either stretching (control, n=14) or respiratory exercises (yoga, n=15). Yoga respiratory exercises (Bhastrika) consisted of rapid forced expirations followed by inspiration through the right nostril, inspiratory apnoea with generation of intrathoracic negative pressure, and expiration through the left nostril. Pulmonary function, maximum expiratory and inspiratory pressures (PE(max) and PI(max), respectively), heart rate variability and blood pressure variability for spontaneous baroreflex determination were determined at baseline and after 4 months.
Results: Subjects in both groups had similar demographic parameters. Physiological variables did not change after 4 months in the control group. However, in the yoga group, there were significant increases in PE(max) (34%, p<0.0001) and PI(max) (26%, p<0.0001) and a significant decrease in the low frequency component (a marker of cardiac sympathetic modulation) and low frequency/high frequency ratio (marker of sympathovagal balance) of heart rate variability (40%, p<0.001). Spontaneous baroreflex did not change, and quality of life only marginally increased in the yoga group.
Conclusion: Respiratory yoga training may be beneficial for the elderly healthy population by improving respiratory function and sympathovagal balance. Trial Registration CinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT00969345; trial registry name: Effects of respiratory yoga training (Bhastrika) on heart rate variability and baroreflex, and quality of life of healthy elderly subjects.