Meditation lowers blood pressure

Regular practice of meditation can lower blood pressure (BP). This is the finding of a recent meta-analysis study that is slated to be published in April 2017 in the Journal of Hypertension, one of the most prestigious medical journal on hypertension [1].

Meditation can help to lower blood pressure.

Meta-analysis is a type of research study that combined data from multiple clinical trials to identify common effect of a treatment. In this new study, data from nineteen (19) clinical trials, with 1646 total participants, that examined the BP responses to meditation was pooled together for analysis. This is a study conducted by a group of researchers from several American and European universities, led by Dr. Lu Shi of Clemson University in the USA. The results of this study confirmed that meditation can be very useful in helping both patients with high blood pressure to lower their BP and healthy people to prevent the elevation of BP.

Blood pressure and hypertension

Measuring blood pressure: systolic and diastolic numbers

BP is the pressure of the blood in your circulatory system. It is measured in two numbers, the first number which measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beat, is called systolic BP (SBP). The second number measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats, is called diastolic BP (DBP). The following table shows the range of SBP and DBP for normal, at-risk, and hypertension (high BP) [2].

Blood pressure levels
Category Systolic (mm Hg) Diastolic (mm Hg)
Normal < 120 < 80
At-risk 120-139 80-89
High > 140 > 90

Hypertension is a major health risk. Sustained high blood pressure increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and kidney failure [3].  It has been estimated that for every 2 mm Hg increase in SBP, a person has a 7% increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease (such as heart attack), and a 10% increased risk of dying from stroke [4]. Hence, the ability to manage BP at a safe level can help to save lives. This is what meditation can do! This new study confirmed that meditation can help to lower BP by and average of ~2.49mm Hg to ~5.57mm Hg in SBP and ~2.18 mm Hg to ~4.26 mm Hg in DBP [1].

You don’t need to do like this to achieve the same blood pressure lowering effect

This level of blood pressure reduction is considered clinically significant: the effect is practical and of value for the treatment of hypertension. Such effects are also equivalent to what exercise training can achieve in lowering BP [5].

The difference is, you don’t have to sweat it out in the gym!

Research on meditation and blood pressure

Qi Gong is also a form of meditation

The effect of meditation on blood pressure has been studied for more than 50 years. Early research was done mostly using Transcendental Meditation (TM), a type of mantra meditation originated from the ancient Vedic tradition of India. TM was introduced into the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late fifties. Since then, TM has become the most studied type of meditation in research [6]. Scientific evidence on the BP lowering effect of TM is already well established with at least three meta-analyses confirming its effectiveness previously [7–9].  The American Heart Association also recommended that TM might be considered for lowering BP in clinical practice in its scientific statement published in 2013 [10].

In recent years, there has also been growing research showing that practicing other forms of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, breath awareness meditation (Anapanasati), contemplative meditation (Vipassana), Zen meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai chi can also influence BP [1,11]. This new study also compared the BP lowering effect of TM to the other types of meditation (non-TM, particularly mindfulness meditation, Anapanasati and Vipassana). The researchers found that non-TM type of meditation can even be more effective in lowering BP than TM can in certain areas, such as when BP was measured using an ambulatory monitoring device (i.e. A device wearing around the arm for measuring BP during the day), although a smaller number of clinical studies on non-TM were used. Regardless, be it TM or non-TM, the effect on BP is clear: Going south! Which is a desirable outcome for anyone with hypertension.

How meditation can lower blood pressure?

The exact mechanism of how meditation can lower BP is less clear, though [12]. Dr. Kenneth Walton and his colleagues from the Maharishi University of Management suggested that the progression of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which high blood pressure, being a major factor, were due to psychosocial stress [6]:

“In brief, psychosocial stress associated with low socioeconomic status (i.e., low levels of education, occupation, and income), adverse life events (e.g., job loss, bereavement, and divorce), and high job strain may contribute to emotional and behavioural responses such as anger, hostility, depression, anxiety, and social isolation.”

Meditation, which was shown to be able to change the psychological effects of stressors as well as how one responded to stress, could potentially lower the impact of psychosocial stress. Hence, lowering of BP as a physical effect [6].

Meditation reduce stress and lower blood pressure naturally

Who can benefit the most?

In another earlier meta-analysis published in 2015, a group Chinese researchers studied specifically the BP lowering effects of TM [9]. Beside finding that TM can lower SBP by 4.26 mm Hg and DBP by 2.33 mm Hg on average, they also found meditation to have greater BP lowering effects on these groups of trial participants [9]:

  • Older people (Age > 65)
  • Anyone with higher BP (pre-hypertensive or hypertensive), and
  • Women (compared to men)

It will be wrong, however, to say that meditation cannot help young, healthy, men. We don’t need to lower our BP unnecessarily. Naturally, BP rises with age, and higher BP will tend to be lowered more than BP in the healthy range after meditation. Therefore, unlike medication that can reduce BP of a healthy person to a dangerously low level, meditation can have no such adverse effect.

As to how long one should meditate to achieve such effects? A lot of the clinical trials were done with subjects practicing TM for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily only [6]. So, you don’t need to sit all day in a cave like a yogi to reap the BP lowering effect of meditation.

Meditate 15-20 min twice daily is enough to keep your blood pressure down
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Conclusion

Reduce the need for hypertension medication in the long term with meditation

Meditation can be an alternative approach to lower BP. With the proven effects of lowering SBP by about 2 to 5 mm Hg and DBP by about 2 to 4 mm Hg, meditation can be used as a first line of defence against hypertension in the population who are at risk (pre-hypertension), preventing the progression of the condition without the need of medication. For anyone with hypertension, meditation can complementary the anti-hypertensive medication to manage the BP. Practice of meditation has been shown to reduce the need for medication in the long term [13]. In healthy, younger individuals, meditation can be a good practice to prevent elevation of BP later in life.

Let’s start meditating!

References

[1]         L. Shi, D. Zhang, L. Wang, J. Zhuang, R. Cook, L. Chen, Meditation and blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, J. Hypertens. 35 (2017) 696–706. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000001217.

[2]         Measuring Blood Pressure | cdc.gov, (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/measure.htm (accessed March 21, 2017).

[3]         S. Health Promotion Board, High Blood Pressure, (n.d.). https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/53/highbloodpressure (accessed March 21, 2017).

[4]         O.N. et al. Lewington S, Clarke R, Prospective Studies Collaboration. Age-specific relevance of usual blood pressure to vascular mortality., Lancet. 360 (2002) 1903–1913.

[5]         V.A. Cornelissen, N.A. Smart, Exercise Training for Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, J. Am. Heart Assoc. 2 (2013) e004473–e004473. doi:10.1161/JAHA.112.004473.

[6]         K.G. Walton, R.H. Schneider, S.I. Nidich, J.W. Salerno, C.K. Nordstrom, C.N. Bairey Merz, Psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease Part 2: effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation program in treatment and prevention., Behav. Med. 28 (2002) 106–23. doi:10.1080/08964280209596049.

[7]         M. V Rainforth, R.H. Schneider, S.I. Nidich, C. Gaylord-King, J.W. Salerno, J.W. Anderson, Stress reduction programs in patients with elevated blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Curr Hypertens Rep. 9 (2007) 520–528.

[8]         J.W. Anderson, C. Liu, R.J. Kryscio, Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis, Am J Hypertens. 21 (2008) 310–316. doi:10.1038/ajh.2007.65.

[9]         Z. Bai, J. Chang, C. Chen, P. Li, K. Yang, I. Chi, Investigating the effect of transcendental meditation on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis, J. Hum. Hypertens. 29 (2015) 653–662. doi:10.1038/jhh.2015.6.

[10]      R.D. Brook, L.J. Appel, M. Rubenfire, G. Ogedegbe, J.D. Bisognano, W.J. Elliott, F.D. Fuchs, J.W. Hughes, D.T. Lackland, B.A. Staffileno, R.R. Townsend, S. Rajagopalan, Beyond medications and diet: Alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure: A scientific statement from the american heart association, Hypertension. 61 (2013) 1360–1383. doi:10.1161/HYP.0b013e318293645f.

[11]      M. Ospina, K. Bond, M. Karkhaneh, L. Tjosvold, B. Vandermeer, Y. Liang, L. Bialy, N. Hooton, K.T. Buscemi N, Dryden DM, Meditation practices for health: state of the research, Evid. Rep. Technol. Assess. (Full. Rep). (2007). https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lisa_Tjosvold/publication/6076604_Meditation_Practices_for_Health_State_of_the_Research/links/54f882280cf28d6deca2adc7.pdf.

[12]      R.D. Brook, J.W. Hughes, Response to evidence for upgrading the ratings for transcendental meditation: Response to AHA scientific statement on alternative methods and BP, Hypertension. 62 (2013) 2012–2013. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.113.02328.

[13]      C.M. Goldstein, R. Josephson, S. Xie, J.W. Hughes, Current perspectives on the use of meditation to reduce blood pressure., Int. J. Hypertens. 2012 (2012) 578397. doi:10.1155/2012/578397.

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