Can meditation help people with heart disease?

Older woman with headphones on, ready to meditate

Meditation and mindfulness have become buzz words recently, but what do they involve, and could our six minute relaxation help you?

A five-year study asked 201 patients with coronary heart disease to do transcendental meditation (a technique where you sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and silently repeat a sound called a mantra, in your head) for 15 minutes a day.

15 minutes of meditation a day reduced the risk of death, heart attack, and stroke by 48 per cent

The researchers found that this reduced the risk of death, heart attack, and stroke by 48 per cent. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and lower stress levels. The researchers concluded “this practice may be clinically useful in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease [the prevention of further heart or stroke events for people who already have the condition].”  

People who meditate regularly reported feeling more balanced and less stressed, and a Stanford University study found that an eight­ week mindfulness course increased activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex that help regulate emotions, subsequently reducing stress.

Similarly, an analysis of 23 controlled trials into heart disease determined that psychosocial interventions (such as meditation, breathing exercises, and physical relaxation techniques) improved the outcomes when they were added to cardiac rehabilitation programmes for patients with CHD.

What to do

We've created a simple six minute meditation (below) to get you started. The audio will guide you though some easy breathing techniques to help you relax, and focus on the present moment. Simply find a quiet room, where you won’t be interrupted, sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor, and press play.

 

The effects of stress

Most cardiac rehab programmes in the UK will include information on dealing with stress, and some will cover relaxation techniques, but if this isn’t the case ask your rehab team or GP if there is anything else available in your area.

Living with a health condition – such as heart disease – can be stressful at times, so having techniques to handle that can be particularly useful to people with heart conditions. There is no evidence to suggest that stress causes coronary heart disease or heart attacks. But if you have coronary heart disease and experience feelings of anxiety or are under lots of stress, it may bring on symptoms like angina.

Why could meditation help?

Living with a health condition can be stressful at times, so having techniques to handle that can be particularly useful

In the short term, simple breathing exercises could help reduce a person’s stress levels by slowing the breathing rate, helping you breathe deeper and ultimately helping to lower the production of the stress hormone cortisol (though further research is needed to conclusively understand the link). It can help draw attention from one’s thoughts which are causing the stress, therefore helping to reduce the physical symptoms of stress. 

In the longer term, mindfulness provides an awareness of how we react to situations and gives us a sense of perspective – not letting us get stressed out in the first place as opposed to just relying on mindfulness as a reactive tool when we get agitated. 

There are many ways to help reduce your stress or anxiety, such as physical activity, writing a journal of your concerns, or writing a list of your priorities. Meditation is also one inexpensive and accessible method that could help you.

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