Meditation practices vary, but most involve quiet, focused attention, during
Meditation offers promising benefits for the cardiovascular system.
Many people practice meditation in hopes of staving off stress and stress-related health problems, including heart disease. While some studies of meditation’s mental and physical benefits haven’t been the most scientifically rigorous, research strongly suggests that this ancient, mind-calming practice can help lower blood pressure—and offers hints of other benefits for the entire cardiovascular system.
“The evidence that chronic stress is pretty toxic for the cardiovascular system is mounting,” says Dr. Laura Kubzansky, a professor of social and behavioral science at the Harvard School of Public Health. Mitigating that stress is probably helpful, she says, but the quality of evidence to support meditation’s benefits is relatively weak, for a number of reasons. Funding for meditation research is scarce, and studies sometimes lack appropriate control groups or aren’t well designed.
Blood pressure benefits
Still, a number of high-quality studies show that meditation can modestly lower blood pressure, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement published in Hypertension last year. One report, which pooled results from nine studies, found that on average, transcendental meditation lowered systolic blood pressure by 4.7 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.2 mm Hg compared with other approaches, which included health education, relaxation, or no treatment.
Other research suggests that meditation may boost heart rate variability. A highly variable heartbeat is a sign of a healthy heart, because it means the heart is responding quickly to the body’s constantly changing environment. Meditation also may dampen the body’s “fight or flight” stress reaction, which causes the heart rate to rise and blood vessels to narrow—both of which tax the heart. Finally, there’s also good evidence that mindfulness meditation can help ease anxiety, depression, and pain—all of which are common in people with heart disease.