Meditation Linked To Lower Cardiovascular Risk

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

We have always understood that aerobic exercise is mainly how cardiovascular strength and endurance is built. But it turns out that meditation is linked to cardiovascular health... here's how.

In recent years, meditation has become a lot more demystified. It’s no longer considered the exclusive practice of monks or wise men living on mountain tops, searching for illumination. Meditation has descended into our everyday lives. It has become a popular practice, for people searching to reduce their stress levels, anxiety, and achieve a deeper feeling of well-being.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation can be defined as a group of techniques that aims to achieve awareness by training the mind. Meditation has been tied to various religious practices like Budisihm, Judaism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Nowadays, meditation has become much more mainstream as a self-help technique. These are some of the more popular types of meditations in practice today:

  • mindfulness meditation
  • transcendental meditation
  • focused meditation
  • loving-kindness meditation
  • visualization meditation
  • mantra meditation
  • spiritual meditation
  • progressive relaxation
  • movement meditation

There is almost sure to be a style of meditation that works for you. Each has a different approach but the main goal remains the same: the betterment of those that practice it. 

How Meditation Helps 

Although some archeologists date the practice of meditation as far back as 5,000 BCE, it was only until the 1960s that Western scientists started to investigate the potential benefits of meditation on the body and mind of its practitioners. 

In 1967, Dr. Herbert Benson, A Harvard Medical professor carried out a moderate study investigating the beneficial impact of meditation. From this, he observed that people that practice meditation used 17% less oxygen, had lower heart rate, and were able to increase brain waves which could help to better sleep. (1)

Later on, Dr. Benson became one of the first meditation pioneers. He published a book called The Relaxation Response and later founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute. Where he continued researching the benefits of meditation.  

Meditation and Cardio Health

Heart disease is another name for Cardiovascular Disease. It can refer to several different conditions that affect the heart and circulatory system. Problems such as heart attack, stroke, coronary disease, and arrhythmia are some of the more common cardiovascular diseases affecting a large swath of the population. A worrying number of Americans die each year, around 655,000, due to heart disease. This comes out to about 1 in every 4 deaths. (2)

There are two categories of CVD risk factors: modifiable and non-modifiable. The non-modifiable risk factors are based on genetics. They are in close relation to aspects such as age, gender, family history, and ethnicity.  However, the good news is that modifiable risk factors like all of the following can be changed by implementing healthy habits: 

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking 

By making better lifestyle choices like exercising regularly, eating healthier, giving up smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and meditating, you may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Between 2012 and 2017, people who reported having a regular meditation practice increased from 4.1% to 14.2%. (3) 

Many studies have been conducted showing the correlation between meditation and lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Meditation has been known to lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels, which may help to prevent problems like heart attack and stroke

How to Meditate?

Knowing that there are many types of meditations out there can be overwhelming if you are a beginner. So it’s important to start with the basics, regardless of the type of meditation you may find incline to follow later on. 

  • Find a calm space where you can do your meditation practice. Avoid distractions like television, mobile phones, excessive noise, etc.
  • Establish a time frame. For many beginners, the idea of meditating for a whole hour seems impossible. It’s better to start with small segments, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, and increase the time gradually.
  • Listen to your body, find your comfort zone. It is essential to be comfortable throughout your meditation practice. Whether you choose to be sitting in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, observe if your body is at ease. If not, change it. Finding a comfortable position is an important part of making your meditation experience enjoyable. 
  • Pay attention to your breathing. The breath is where we find ourselves. By being aware of it, we turn the attention inwards. Take big diaphragmatic breaths (filling up your belly with air) and exhale slowly in a controlled manner. Observe the sensations in your body.
  • Be aware of your thoughts. Probably the hardest part. The idea is that you observe the thoughts that inevitably show up while meditating. You can observe them, but do not engage with them. Do not analyze them or judge them. Be the observer, go back to the breath. 

Extra tips 

Some other tips to get your meditation practice going.

  • Set a schedule. Setting a fixed time for your meditation practice will get you in the habit of meditating regularly. For example, you can set your alarm 15 minutes before your waking-up time to meditate before starting your day.
  • Take every day as it comes. If today was harder to meditate than yesterday, do not worry. When you start meditating regularly, you will notice that some days can be easier than others. Be patient with yourself, it’s all in the journey.
  • Do not compare. Your practice is personal, based on your individual needs. What works for you may not work for others and vice versa.
  • Embrace your feelings. Not all feelings are pleasant and may appear while you’re meditating. Do not suppress them or judge them, just acknowledge them and let them pass through you. Go back to paying attention to your breath. 
  • Apply 1-2 pumps of Be Serene Instant Relief to your temples or wrists before starting your meditation. This advanced topical delivery system offers faster-acting relief which can help you to enhance your meditation practice.

More Benefits

The regular, conscious practice of meditation can not only increase cardiovascular health but also has been known to positively improve its practitioners’ wellbeing by:

  • Promoting emotional health
  • Controlling anxiety. 
  • Helping the battle with addiction.
  • Enhancing self-awareness.
  • Reducing memory-loss due to aging. 

Bibliography

1.Bhasin MK, Denninger JW, Huffman JC, et al. Specific transcriptome changes associated with blood pressure reduction in hypertensive patients after relaxation response training. J Altern Complement Med. 2018;24(5):486-504.
2.Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics-2020 update: A report from the American Heart Association: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2020;141(9):e139-e596.
3.Clarke TC, Barnes PM, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.s. adults aged 18 and over. NCHS Data Brief. 2018;(325):1-8.

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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