Can Meditation and Mindfulness Training Reduce High Blood Pressure?
A new study published in the journal PLOS One claims that meditation and mindfulness training may be able to reduce high blood pressure and hypertension.
What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
High blood pressure is when the force of your blood pushing again the walls of your blood vessels is consistently too high. Over time, this force and friction damages the tissues inside of the arteries, forming LDL cholesterol (bad) plaque along the tears in the artery walls. According to the American Heart Association, “the more the plaque and damage increases, the narrower (smaller) the insides of the arteries become – raising blood pressure and starting a vicious cycle that further harms your arteries, heart and the rest of your body. This can ultimately lead to other conditions ranging from arrhythmia to heart attack and stroke.”
What is Mindfulness?
Practicing mindfulness involves maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and present environment. It also entails tuning into current emotions without judgment of whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the present time. The goal is to tune into sensations in the present moment, rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future, which can often lead to worsened depression and anxiety symptoms. Numerous studies have reported the benefits of mindfulness to include relaxation, focus, a boost in overall mood, improvement of sleep and even energy levels.
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The Study on the Link Between Mindfulness and Blood Pressure
The results of the study are from a Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP) program specifically designed to evaluate “acceptability, feasibility, and effects on hypothesized proximal self-regulation mechanisms.” Participants who enrolled in this program experiences significant reductions in blood pressure levels that were still in effect at follow up examinations one year after the trial.
The MP-BP curriculum incorporates mindfulness to address high blood pressure directly and to help people strengthen their ability to maintain the healthful habits that can keep it under control. Lead study author Eric Loucks, associate professor of epidemiology, behavioral and social sciences, and medicine at Brown University and his colleagues developed a 10-session program that followed 43 participants with high or elevated blood pressure for one year. More than 80% of participants had hypertension.
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The program taught participants a variety of techniques, which included mindfulness training and explanations of how behaviors can contribute to high blood pressure. They also encourages participants to take medications as prescribed by their doctors consistently.
After one year, participants blood pressure was still lower than baseline. Their self-management skills remained strong, including their lifestyle changes. Those with stage 2 uncontrolled hypertension (systolic measurement of over 140 mmHg) benefited the most, with a mean reduction in their blood pressure of 15.1 mmHg.
Additional testing is needed but Loucks is hopeful that the study’s results can change lives – “I hope that these projects will lead to a paradigm shift in terms of the treatment options for people with high blood pressure.”
Loucks EB, Nardi WR, Gutman R, Kronish IM, Saadeh FB, Li Y, et al. (2019) Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP): Stage 1 single-arm clinical trial. PLoS ONE 14(11): e0223095. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223095