Meditation can serve many purposes. It can help regulate breathing, reduce stress, and aid some in getting in touch with their inner spiritual selves. When it comes to heart health, meditation can take on another role — a preventative one.

heart health

The benefits of meditating have been acknowledged by the American Heart Association. Research published in its 2012 journal found that African Americans with heart disease who practiced meditation regularly were 48% less likely to have a heart attack. That study also found there was direct correlation between the amount of time a person spent meditating and their longevity of life.

Of all the academic studies focusing on meditation and heart health, including the one just mentioned, most involve a form of meditation called transcendental meditation. This practice involves the repetition of a single mantra while the practitioner sits in a comfortable position for an extended period of time. It’s found to be more effective than other forms of meditation such as progressive muscle exercises.

Stress and Your Heart

Stress is one of the greatest risk factors of heart disease. With Americans working longer hours and sleeping less, it is easier than ever to get overwhelmed by the prospect of facing the day ahead.

The human body is capable of fighting stress through an activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the body that sends signals to our fight or flight instinct. Like a fire being extinguished by water, the sympathetic nervous system fills the body with cortisol and adrenalin. However, situations involving ongoing stress can flush too much of these hormones into our system, leading to something called allostatic load. This physiological wearing of a person’s physical and mental systems puts one at increased risk of all kinds of health conditions, including heart disease.

That’s the long way of saying this: less stress means the less likely you are to experience the complete burnout described above. Plus it means your immune system has a greater likeliness of recovering and recharging, allowing you to better battle disease in the future.

In research conducted by a Harvard neuroscientist, just eight weeks of meditative mindfulness was proven to shrink the size of the amygdala, the fight or flight mechanism in the brain. The shrinking was attributed to the reduced stress levels in those participants who had been meditating.  

Other Health Links

There are many other health benefits that can come from practicing transcendental meditation.

Meditation is a proven way to treat hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. By practicing meditation for at least 20 minutes each day, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure are reduced. While the treatment can be used for current patients with hypertension, it can also be used as a preventative measure.

Another Harvard University study found meditation helps practitioners get a better night’s sleep. Over the course of six, hour-long sessions, meditation was found to be more effective than a sleep education class when it came to reducing insomnia, fatigue, and depression. It is recommended that people get at least six hours of sleep each night in order to cut in half the chance of developing a coronary heart disease.

Finally, when combined with an appropriate diet, meditation may reduce inflammation, something that is considered another risk factor for health disease.

Incorporating meditation into your life isn’t a huge time commitment. Meditation guidelines recommend practicing for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day. This practice can happen anywhere you like, so long as you’re able to focus on your thoughts.

It’s thanks to the above reasons that some doctors are recommending meditation as a complement to the traditional medication to prevent heart disease and reduce stress.