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Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: Meditation may Help High Blood Pressure


Experts have believed for a while that meditation can be good for the health of your heart. As more and more research studies meditation, more and more evidence is giving proof to this belief.

Recently, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that meditation can lower high blood pressure and decrease insulin resistance-two components of metabolic syndrome, which has been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Insulin resistance is often a precursor to diabetes. When you have insulin resistance, your blood sugar is higher than normal, but it's not high enough to qualify as diabetes. And diabetes itself increases your risk of heart disease.

In the recent study, researchers studied 84 people who had coronary artery disease and divided them into two groups. One group participated in a health education course for 16 weeks. The second group enrolled in a transcendental meditation course for the same period of time.

At the end of the 16 weeks, the group that had been learning meditation experienced

  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Improvements in blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Improvement in heart rate variability (this indicates that the heart is able to respond to stressors more quickly and efficiently, and the heart rate is able to return to normal more quickly)

    The results of this particular study indicate that meditation may help improve the body's response to stress, and may decrease the effects of the components of metabolic syndrome.

    Previous research has shown that practicing regular meditation, or what many call "the relaxation response," can lower blood pressure and heart rate, help with sleep problems, reduce feelings of anger and hostility and help alleviate some types of depression. A study at the University of Wisconsin tested a theory that says people who are feeling stressed out, anxious or depressed have a higher level of activity in the right frontal cortex of the brain. The flip side of the theory is that people who tend to be more calm and happy have greater activity in the left frontal cortex.

    The study, conducted at the University of Wisconsin, looked at "stressed out" volunteer participants who worked at a high technology firm in Madison. Researchers split the volunteers into two groups, a meditation group and a non-meditation group. At the outset, all the volunteers had EEGs performed, which tested their brain waves. Twenty-five were placed in a meditation group, and 16 in the non-meditation group.

    The meditators took an 8-week course. At the end of the eight weeks, both groups got EEGs again. The brains of the participants in the meditation group showed a "pronounced shift" toward the left frontal lobe, leading researchers to believe that regular meditation may be able to cause a change in the brain's "set point."

    Meditation can be an excellent addition to treatment for cardiovascular disease. It can improve your quality of life, especially if you develop it as a regular practice. It has no negative side effects, and it doesn't cost any money.

    In fact, all it takes to meditate is quiet and a little time. No special clothes, no special chants, no burning incense.

    Meditation has a similar calming effect on your body and mind that prayer can have. If you already have a religious or spiritual practice, you probably know what we mean. But if this type of practice isn't already part of your life, and if you're thinking you might want to spark something like it, you may want to take a look at meditation.

    Regular meditation doesn't have to take a lot of time. Some teachers and practitioners suggest that two 15- or 20-minutes sessions per day can provide a lot of benefit. It can be difficult to start meditating on your own, although it's not impossible. You may find it most helpful to take a class or to learn one-on-one with an instructor. Regular classes and lessons not only provide you with good information about how to begin. They also help keep you motivated to continue on, much the same way doing a yoga class just once a week keeps you practicing on your own at home on the days you don't go to class.

    If you're interested in learning more about meditation, ask your doctor or any of your healthcare providers to point you in the right direction. If they can't help you, you can try looking under "meditation" in your local yellow pages. Or go to the nearest health food store, yoga center or t'ai chi class and see whether there's a bulletin board. Reliable instructors often put flyers in places like that.

    Archives of Internal Medicine, 12 June 2006; American Journal of Cardiology, 15 April 2002; The Australian Family Physician, February 2002; Stroke, March 2000; Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, July-August 1999
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