May is National Meditation Month—Make Time to Meditate, Not Medicate
If you want to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke—two leading causes of mortality in the US—there is research showing that you may have to look no further than your meditation mat. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation found that when African American patients with heart disease practiced transcendental meditation twice a day, they dramatically reduced their risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from all causes when compared to the control group, who simply received education about heart-friendly diet and exercise. In fact, the meditation group was 48 percent less likely to experience these events.
For more than five years, the study followed 201 black men and women with coronary heart disease who had been randomly assigned to either participate in a transcendental meditation (TM) program or receive heart-health education. TM is a simple, effortless technique that allows your active mind to settle inward, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness, according to TM.org.
In the study, almost 60 percent of participants were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs; more than a third were taking aspirin; and 38 percent of the meditation group and 43 percent of the health education group smoked. The average body mass index among participants was 32—clinically obese.
The meditation group was instructed to sit with eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day practicing the technique while the health education group was advised to spend 20 minutes a day at home practicing exercise, healthy meal preparation, and relaxation. At the end of the study, the meditation group not only experienced fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths, but also decreased their blood pressure by almost 5 mm Hg. They also had less feelings of anger compared to the health education group.
Robert Schneider, lead author on the study, suggested that this type of meditation may reduce heart disease risks for healthy people as well, and that doctors may wish to prescribe it as part of stress reduction to their patients. This is not the first study by any means that shows the benefits of meditation on health. Dr. Anita Petruzzelli of BodyLogicMD of Hartford notes, “meditation has been scientifically proven to decrease anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain.” Various types of meditation have also been shown to reduce the severity of colds and flus (likely because of their positive effects on the immune system), slow the progression of dementia, and decrease stress symptoms in cancer patients. While the participants in this study practiced TM with good results, it is worth noting that many studies have reported that mindfulness training, in general, has been shown to have various health benefits. Mindfulness training can include yoga, tai chi, centering prayer and any other method that can be used to help quiet the mind.
In fact, in 2007, there were more than 70 scientific articles published on the benefits of mindfulness meditation, including improvements in headaches, blood pressure, longevity, cognitive function in older adults, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, insomnia, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, smoking cessation, and more.
Many people think happiness or peace is something external or outside the mind. You can spend so much time trying to change or improve your external circumstances—like getting a new house, a new job, or a new partner—but changing your external circumstances is different than cultivating peace internally in your mind. Meditation fosters a peaceful state of mind that can be taken outside of a meditation practice into everyday encounters, which can help reduce stress even when the external conditions are less than ideal.
Meditation clearly has profound effects on not just the mind, but also the body, which is why the physicians of the BodyLogicMD network often include stress reduction techniques such as meditation in their lifestyle protocols for patients. Meditation not only primes the mind to experience fewer negative states, which by extension affects the physical body, but also bolsters your ability to handle stress and more easily let it go.
“By familiarizing your mind with peaceful states learned in meditation, you will become happier, and so will the people around you. And you will be able to take this peace and happiness with you into your daily life and easily deal with any external condition, whether good or bad,” says Dr. Petruzzelli.
Physicians within the BodyLogicMD network also have the advantage of being able to test stress hormone levels through your urine and prescribe pharmaceutical-grade supplements to naturally lower cortisol levels, which may reduce your risk of stress-related disease and improve symptoms of already-diagnosed conditions. Don’t let stress get the best of you. Contact a physician within the BodyLogicMD network today.