A mind-body practice long used to calm the mind, meditation may benefit your heart. Although research on meditation and heart 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 Can Meditation Help Your Heart?
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 Science Behind Meditation and Heart Health
To date, most of the data on meditation and heart health come from relatively small studies. For instance, a 2006 study of 62 adults found that mindfulness meditation may help lower blood pressure and increase respiratory sinus arrhythmia (a measure of parasympathetic nervous system activity). Published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, the study found that meditation had a greater effect on heart health than progressive muscle relaxation. In addition, a 2010 study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that three one-hour mindfulness meditation sessions decreased heart rate, improved mood, and eased fatigue. (The study involved 82 people with no prior experience in meditation.)
Several studies have focused on the heart health benefits of transcendental meditation, a type of meditation that involves repeating a mantra. In a 2002 report from the journal Australian Family Physician, for example, researchers analyzed the available research on transcendental mediation's cardiovascular effects and found that the practice may help keep blood pressure in check, fight atherosclerosis, improve the health of heart disease patients, and promote smoking cessation.
Should You Use Meditation to Fight Heart Disease?
It's too soon to recommend meditation for prevention or treatment of heart disease. However, taking up meditation may have a positive impact on your overall health, due to its stress-reducing benefits. Mind-body practices like yoga and tai chi may also help alleviate your stress.
It should be noted that using meditation (or any other alternative therapy) in place of standard treatment for heart disease can have serious health consequences. If you have a heart condition, talk to your doctor about how to incorporate meditation into your health routine.
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