(RxWiki News) Meditation may not be high on your to-do list if you have a busy lifestyle. It makes sense to find time to unwind because the added relaxation may offer your heart a boost.
Regular transcendental meditation, a mantra-based type of meditation that originated in India, was found to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by nearly 50 percent, while also improving longevity among African Americans.
Individuals of all ethnicities would likely benefit -- though possibly to varying degrees. Researchers followed only black patients because heart disease deaths are 50 percent higher for African Americans compared to whites in the US.
"Integrate meditation into your daily routine."
Robert Schneider, MD, lead researcher and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, said it appears that transcendental meditation "turns on the body's own pharmacy," essentially allowing it to repair and maintain itself. Study participants also had lower blood pressure and experienced less stress and anger.
During the study, investigators followed 201 African Americans randomly assigned to participate in a transcendental meditation stress-reducing program or a health education class about lifestyle modification for diet and exercise for an average of five years.
Just over half of the participants were women and the average age was 59. The average body mass index of the patients was 32, which is considered clinically obese. About 40 percent were smokers. All patients had at least one coronary artery with more than 50 percent blockage.
Almost 60 percent from both groups took cholesterol medication, while 41 percent of the meditation group and 31 percent from the second group regularly took aspirin.
Those participating in the meditation program closed their eyes for 20 minutes twice a day, allowing their bodies and minds to rest, though they remained alert.
Health education group participants spent at least 20 minutes a day performing heart-healthy behaviors such as physical activity, cooking healthy meals or relaxing under the supervision of a health educator.
Researchers assessed participants at the beginning of the study, at three months and then every six months thereafter. Those check ups evaluated blood pressure, heart-related hospitalizations, body mass index, diet and how well patients followed the prescribed program.
Investigators recorded 20 heart events such as heart attack, stroke or death among those in the meditation group compared to 32 in the second group, representing a correlation with reduced death, heart attack and stroke among regular meditators.
There were actually a greater number of cardiovascular events -- 36 in the meditation group and 27 in the education group -- but some of those were not included in the analysis since they occurred during a hiatus in the study.
Researchers also noted a statistically significant reduced rate of heart events among individuals with high adherence to the meditation program. Those participants meditated on average 8.5 times a week. Meditators also were found to have systolic blood pressure that was 5 mmHg lower.
There was not a significant change in diet, exercise or weight among either group, though meditation participants cut down on their smoking. Patients from both groups drank less alcohol by the conclusion of the study.
“Transcendental meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions,” noted Dr. Schneider.
“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."
The study, recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.