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A yoga & exercise randomized controlled trial for vasomotor symptoms: Effects on heart rate variability

Heart rate variability (HRV) reflects the integration of the parasympathetic nervous system with the rest of the body. Studies on the effects of yoga and exercise on HRV have been mixed but suggest that exercise increases HRV. We conducted a secondary analysis of the effect of yoga and exercise on HRV based on a randomized clinical trial of treatments for vasomotor symptoms in peri/post-menopausal women. Randomized clinical trial of behavioral interventions in women with vasomotor symptoms (n=335), 40-62 years old from three clinical study sites. 12-weeks of a yoga program, designed specifically for mid-life women, or a supervised aerobic exercise-training program with specific intensity and energy expenditure goals, compared to a usual activity group. Time and frequency domain HRV measured at baseline and at 12 weeks for 15min using Holter monitors. Women had a median of 7.6 vasomotor symptoms per 24h. Time and frequency domain HRV measures did not change significantly in either of the intervention groups compared to the change in the usual activity group. HRV results did not differ when the analyses were restricted to post-menopausal women. Although yoga and exercise have been shown to increase parasympathetic-mediated HRV in other populations, neither intervention increased HRV in middle-aged women with vasomotor symptoms. Mixed results in previous research may be due to sample differences. Yoga and exercise likely improve short-term health in middle-aged women through mechanisms other than HRV.

Authors: Jones SM; Guthrie KA; Reed SD; Landis CA; Sternfeld B; LaCroix AZ; Dunn A; Burr RL; Newton KM

Complement Ther Med. 2016 Jun;26:66-71. Epub 2016-03-04.

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