A new study from Hacettepe University has found promising evidence that mindfulness can improve the quality of life of heart attack survivors. The study examined the effect of mindfulness on fatigue, kinesiophobia and overall quality of life across a 12-week period.

Kinesiophobia, a fear of movement, is common in heart attack survivors due to concerns that over-exerting could lead to another heart attack. This can result in the avoidance of physical activity and limit normal daily mobility.

The study was presented at ESC Acute CardioVascular Care 2021 and suggests that practising mindfulness can replace catastrophic thinking with positive thoughts. 

Dr Canan Karadas, the author of the study, said: “Mindfulness refers to the mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, including thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. It has drawn increasing attention for treating chronic conditions such as high blood pressure.”

The study therefore hypothesised that mindfulness meditation could reduce fatigue, fear of movement and provide a better standard of living for heart attack survivors.

Heart attack patients who practised mindfulness had less fear of movement

The study included 56 patients, with an average age of 55 years, who had experienced a heart attack. Participants were randomly assigned to a mindfulness or control group for eight weeks.

Patients in the control group attended one 15-minute individual education session on the structure and function of the heart, the coronary arteries, and diseases of the heart.

Patients in the mindfulness group attended an individual session, which included a 15-minute description of the technique. This was followed by 15 minutes of supervised practice: patients were asked to sit comfortably on a chair with their backs straight and eyes closed. They were then instructed to breathe deeply – inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth using the diaphragm – and focus on their breathing and the present moment.

Participants received a recording of the instructions and were asked to repeat the 15-minute session every day at home in a quiet room. Daily reminders were used to motivate patients to practice the meditation and to evaluate their compliance with the study protocol.

Fatigue, kinesiophobia, and quality of life were assessed at baseline and weeks four, eight and 12 using the Piper Fatigue Scale, Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia Heart questionnaire, and MacNew Heart Disease Health-Related Quality of Life questionnaire, which examines patients’ feelings about how their heart condition affects daily function overall and in three areas (physically, emotionally, and socially).

The results found:

  • At baseline, there were no differences in the three variables between the intervention and control groups.
  • By week four, patients in the mindfulness group had less fear of movement compared to the control group – a benefit that was sustained at weeks eight and 12.
  • By week eight, patients in the mindfulness group had better quality of life overall and in all three areas than those in the control group.
  • By week 12, patients in the mindfulness group continued to report better emotional function.
  • Measurements of fatigue did not vary between the two groups at any time point.

The authors concluded that mindfulness can reduce fear of movement and improve quality of life in heart attack survivors, with effects extending beyond the completion of the intervention. By replacing catastrophic thinking with positive thoughts, patients felt less emotionally and physically vulnerable, improving their emotional function and reducing feelings of kinesiophobia.

Further studies will need to be done to compound these findings, however, these results are encouraging and could represent a move towards mindfulness practices being incorporated into rehabilitation techniques in the future.