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Heart Health

Updated 11 August 2020

Mindful health: Meditation is good for the heart

A new study is bolstering the body of research around meditation's ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • A new study has found more probable evidence of meditation reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Over 60 000 participants' data were used to find out if the link exists
  • The biggest difference was found in the risk of coronary artery disease

Meditation has been a recommended part of cardiovascular treatment since 2017, when the American Heart Association released a scientific statement that the mindful practice could possibly help reduce the risk of heart disease. 

Not only does it reduce stress, which in turn reduces strain on your heart, but it also promotes other healthy habits that inherently reduce your cardiovascular risk, like quitting smoking and following a healthier diet. 

While the practice is low-cost and has no side-effects, the association did note that more robust research is needed to confirm the theory that meditation has physiological effects on the heart. 

READ | How yoga may bring a brain boost 

New study with large data set

A group of researchers heeded the call and conducted a massive study with over 60 000 participants to help add to the body of research, publishing their findings in The American Journal of Cardiology. 

"Meditation could potentially increase physical and mental relaxation, leading to improved outcomes after a major cardiovascular event," the researchers hypothesises. It's also been posited that the practice can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

They analysed the data from the US's National Health Interview Survey from 2012 and 2017, looking at the health status of people diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and coronary artery disease. The data also included people who meditate. 

Out of the 61 267 participants, only 9.6% said that they meditated. Among these practitioners, there was a much lower prevalence for people with cardiovascular diseases than those who did not meditate. 

READ MORE | Meditation boosts brain functioning 

Big impact on coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease showed the biggest difference. Those who meditated were half as likely to be diagnosed with the disease than those who didn't meditate. The prevalence of other cardiovascular risks in the meditation group compared with the non-meditation group was 65% for high cholesterol, 70% for diabetes, 76% for stroke, and 86% for high blood pressure.

Even after adjusting for age, sex, BMI, race, marital status, cigarette smoking, sleeping duration, and depression, the researchers still found meditation to be a significant contributing factor. 

Limitations to study

However, there were some limitations. The researchers did not record what kind of meditation people were using and how long and frequently they practice, which could affect its impact on heart disease. 

While meditation had the potential of lowering the risk of heart disease and increasing health overall, this can be easily influenced by reduced alcohol consumption, exercise and other moderate physical activities. 

People with low-risk of heart disease might also be innately more attracted to meditative practices than those higher at risk due to lifestyle choices.

Their findings were not "definitive", but it's another win for the argument for prescribing meditation to help improve heart health. 

READ | Get results with different meditation techniques 

infographic on types of meditation

(Infographic: Gabi Zietsman)

Image credit: Pixabay