Calming the Mind, Improving the Heart

by Emma Thomas

Americans are well aware of the threat posed by heart-related health problems. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that heart disease claims 600,000 lives every year. This figure is made even more sobering by the fact that it equates to roughly a fourth of all annual deaths in the United States. For those concerned about the condition of their heart, recent research suggests that taking up meditation might be a very good idea.

Health Classes Vs. Transcendental Meditation

In late 2012, a team of researchers analyzed the effects of meditation on subjects with heart disease. The authors examined total of 201 African-American adults, all of whom had been diagnosed with heart disease prior to the study. The study was conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

These subjects were randomly placed into one of two groups – some participants were told to practice transcendental meditation on a regular basis, whereas others were instructed to attend a health education class. It’s not especially difficult to practice transcendental meditation; a practitioner simply has to sit comfortably and silently repeat a mantra. A mantra is defined simply a word, sound or phrase. They are used in meditative exercises to help the practitioner concentrate and focus.

In addition to having heart disease, the study provided some other relevant facts about the participants:

  • More than four in ten (42%) subjects were women. The average age of a female participant was 59. Only half the women who took part in the study earned more than $10,000 annually.
  • The subjects’ body mass index (BMI) averaged 32. A BMI reading of more than 30 is considered obese.
  • Smoking was fairly common among the meditation group and the health class attendees. The study reported that 38% of the former were smokers, compared with 43% of the latter.
  • High cholesterol was a prevalent issue among the participants, with nearly 60% taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Adults assigned to the meditation group were asked to sit with their eyes closed for twenty minutes per day. While doing this, they were instructed to remain alert while simultaneously allowing both their minds and bodies to rest. These subjects meditated twice per day during the study.

In comparison, those in the opposing group attended health classes taught by professional health officials. During these classes, the subjects learned about techniques designed to improve heart health. These lifestyle adjustments included certain exercises, meal preparation and relaxation methods.

Comparing the Two Groups

Over a five year span, the researchers documented the subjects BMIs, diets, blood pressure and cardiovascular-related hospitalizations. They also tracked how faithfully the participants adhered to their assigned program. In addition to recording this information at the onset of the study, further evaluations occurred at the report’s three month mark and every six months thereafter.

After monitoring their subjects over this five year period, the authors were able to identify 52 specific “end point events.” Examples of such events included stroke, heart attack and death. Of this total, 32 events occurred in those assigned to the health classes, while 20 were documented in the meditation group. The authors also noticed that adults who meditated enjoyed a 5 mm/Hg drop in blood pressure, and were also less prone to anger.

Moreover, the study was able to establish a correlation between transcendental meditation and better prolonged health. When compared to subjects who participated in the health education class, adults who meditated on a daily basis cut their risk of stroke, heart attack and death from all causes by 48 percent. In addition, both groups appeared less inclined to consume alcohol, and had increased their levels of physical activity.

The study was lead by Robert Schneider, a medical doctor and director the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention. Summarizing his team’s work, Schneider stated that “transcendental meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions. The research on transcendental meditation and cardiovascular disease is established well enough that physicians may safely and routinely prescribe stress reduction for their patients with this easy to implement, standardized and practical program.”

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