Mindfulness and meditation have been linked to heart health benefits.
With regular practice, it is believed that you can keep your cardiovascular system working well and handle most heart-related complications.
Here, we take a deeper look into how these two mental health techniques help in this aspect and what research studies say about it.
Understanding The Current Global State of Heart Health
When it comes to heart health, this is one of the most serious health issues in the world.
Heart disease is said to be the leading cause of death in the United States. 1 out of every 4 deaths is caused by heart health issues (1).
After every 36 seconds, someone in the United States dies of this problem, and a little over 500,000 people die each year for heart problems.
Coronary heart disease is the most popular type of heart disease and it is brought about by the heart arteries failing to supply adequate blood that is rich in oxygen to the heart (2).
Heart attack is also another common health problem with hundreds of thousands of Americans suffering from it every year.
While millions of people in the United States struggle with heart health, even more people across the world go through the same pain to try to improve and maintain proper cardiovascular system functioning in the long term.
People who have high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and those who smoke are at the highest risk of getting heart diseases.
On top of that, those who drink too much alcohol, or are overweight or obese, or are diabetic, or those who eat unhealthy foods and fail to work out often also risk getting heart disease.
There are many ways to prevent and avoid heart diseases. Most of them revolve around living a healthy lifestyle and avoid stress and taking drugs for various related conditions.
Meditation and mindfulness have also shown potential in helping with this health issue.
How Mindfulness And Meditation Helps With Heart Health
Meditation boosts heart health in various ways.
Firstly, it lowers the levels of a hormone called Cortisol. This is a hormone that is produced when you are overwhelmed or stressed, which then activates your fight or flight response and speeds up your blood pressure and heart rate.
Mindfulness meditation has been found to reduce cortisol levels and ensure your blood pressure and heart rate are well regulated (3).
Also, it improves heart rate variability (HRV). This is the difference in time between heartbeats.
Normally, a high rate variability shows that your heart is functioning well and a low heart rate variability indicates something is wrong, and the latter has been found to increase the chances of someone getting a stroke or a heart attack, even when you are not suffering from any heart conditions.
Regular practice of meditation can improve your heart rate variability and ensure that your heart health is at its optimum level.
Moreover, meditation helps you have slim chances of having heart issues. Studies have shown that those who meditate on a frequent basis are less likely to get heart attacks, stroke, and other heart conditions since they have good blood pressure, low cholesterol, and other favorable factors that otherwise contribute to heart problems (4).
And the forms of meditation that are linked to heart health benefits include mindfulness meditation, vipassana meditation, loving-kindness meditation, transcendental meditation, zen or zazen meditation.
What Research Says About Meditation And Heart Health
Generally speaking, meditation has consistently shown its potency in improving the cardiovascular system with consistent practice.
And while it has not been exhaustively studied, it still remains a reliable method when combined with other interventions like physical fitness, medication, and healthy diets.
Let’s take a look at what current studies on meditation and heart health say.
A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials on meditation and blood pressure concluded that both transcendental and non-transcendental forms of meditation help in a way in regulating blood pressure (5) (6).
Another clinical trial involved 60 participants with blood sugar problems and type-2 diabetes who were divided into 2 groups, where one group acted as the control group and the other was taken through 8 weeks of the MBSR (Mindful Based Stress Reduction) program.
After the experiment, the two groups were tested for blood sugar, and the group that was given MBSR was found to have lower blood sugar than the other group (7).
A 2018 study was published in the International Journal of Yoga where one group was given a 10 weeks meditation program where they meditated twice per week. The other group didn’t receive the program. Both groups were made of people who had coronary artery disease. After 6 months, the group that went through the meditation program was found to have much more reduced blood sugar than the control group (8).
A review of the current clinical evidence on meditation and coronary heart disease revealed that meditation was in fact effective in reducing levels of the cortisol hormone through regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal pathway. Also, it can tone down sympathetic activity and decrease negative behavioral activity (9).
Moreover, it not only reduced the cardiovascular mortality rate but also improved the health of people with cases such as dyslipidemia, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Although, more research is needed to bring clarity on the full benefits of meditation
A survey data in 2020 published in Science Daily where researchers took a look at data on more than 60,000 participants in studies that were aimed at understanding the link between meditation and heart health found that people who meditated showed indicators of reduced levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and lower risks of diabetes, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
The biggest difference for these areas between the meditating groups and the non-meditating groups was in coronary artery disease (10).
Another study aimed at exploring how the Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP) program may affect heart health found that the program helped the participants to improve their self-regulation behaviors and skills that helped reduce the chance of suffering from cardiovascular disease.
They were found to have better regulation of emotions, attention control, perceived stress, and interceptive awareness which contributed to the good results (11).
In summary, meditation is a potentially effective intervention in improving your cardiovascular system going by the many aspects of health it enhances that are linked to good heart health.
However, since it hasn’t fully been understood yet, future research studies on this area will help us understand better how we can use it as a standalone practice for good cardiovascular health.
In the meantime, you are advised to use it alongside other established techniques for boosting your heart health like improving your lifestyle and taking medications for blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol.