Can Regular Meditation Improve Your Heart Health?

Man meditating
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A mind-body practice long used to calm the mind, meditation may also benefit your heart. Although research on meditation and cardiovascular health is fairly limited, some studies suggest that taking up a meditation practice may boost your defense against heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States).

How Might Meditation Help Your Heart?

Meditation typically involves focused attention on a sound, thought, object, moment, visualization, or mantra (a repeated word or phrase). Mindfulness, breath awareness, and compassion are other components of meditation.

Meditation is thought to reduce stress, a risk factor for heart disease. There's some evidence that meditation may rev up activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is involved in lowering blood pressure and heart rate during periods of relaxation.

The Research on Meditation and Heart Health

The studies on meditation suggest a possible benefit of meditation on heart disease risk reduction, according to a report published in 2017 by the American Heart Association (AHA). In their review of previously published studies, researchers found that meditation is associated with reduced stress, anxiety, and depression and improved sleep quality and general wellbeing.

While their review suggests that meditation may also help to lower high blood pressure, help people who smoke quit, and may be associated with a reduced heart attack risk, the researchers state that more research (from high-quality, large-scale clinical trials) is needed before any conclusions can be made. In the meantime, they suggest that meditation may be a low-cost, low-risk practice that can be used together with conventional strategies like diet, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications.

In a study included in the AHA review, 201 people with coronary artery disease participated in a transcendental meditation (a type of meditation that involves sitting with your eyes closed and repeating a mantra) program or a health education program. After about five years, mortality and the number of heart attacks or strokes was significantly lower in those in the meditation group.

For a report published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology in 2015, researchers analyzed previously published clinical trials on mind-body practices, including meditation. In their review, the researchers found that these interventions were associated with improved quality of life, depression, anxiety, and blood pressure.

An online mindfulness training program may improve exercise capacity in people with heart disease, according to a study published in PLoS One in 2017. For the study, participants received three months of either usual care plus online mindfulness training or usual care alone. At a 12-month follow-up, those who had received the mindfulness training had a small improvement in exercise capacity (measured by a six-minute walk test), systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), mental functioning, and depressive symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Even though more research is needed on the potential benefits of meditation on heart health, meditation may have a positive impact on your overall health due to its stress-reducing benefits. Other mind-body practices like yoga and tai chi may also help alleviate your stress.

If you have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease, speak to your healthcare provider about how how to incorporate meditation practices into your regimen.

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