Posted on Jul 20, 2020, 4 p.m.
Meditation has been linked to lower cardiovascular risk in a data analysis published in the American Journal of Cardiology from Veterans Affairs researchers and colleagues of more than 61,000 people pointing to heart benefits.
Studies suggest that meditation may have beneficial effects on a number of conditions, and a statement from the American Heart Association says that meditation may be of benefit for cardiovascular risk reduction.
Data shows that meditation may help with cholesterol levels, blood pressure, quitting smoking, and overall cardiovascular health, but the connection is not definitive. This study set out to provide further evidence on how meditation may impact cardiovascular risk by using a large national database with many participants.
Researchers from the VA Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Icahn School of Medicine analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey which is conducted annually by the National Center for Health Statistics to collect information from a wide range of health topics from a nationally representative sample. Data from over 61,000 participants was looked at, of which close to 10% reported participating in some form of meditation.
Compared to those who did not, those who meditated were found to have had lower rates of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and coronary artery disease, with the greatest difference being in coronary artery disease. Prevalence of other cardiovascular risks in the meditation group compared to those who didn’t was 65% for high cholesterol, 70% for diabetes, 76% for stroke, and 86% for high blood pressure.
Other factors connected to cardiovascular risk such as age, gender, BMI, and cigarette smoking were controlled for, and after adjusting for these factors the effect of meditation remained significant to add to a growing body of evidence suggesting the potential benefits of meditation.
This study was not without limitations such as not capturing what form of meditation was being used, and not asking about the duration or intensity of the meditation. Some forms of meditation may offer more cardiovascular benefits than others, and it is possible that longer and more frequent bouts of meditation may provide more benefits, but this study was not able to measure these effects. This study also is not able to definitively say that meditation directly decreases cardiovascular risk, it may be that those who are in better health to begin with are more likely to practice meditation.
Additionally, other lifestyle activities may obscure the link between meditation and cardiovascular health, such as factoring in alcohol consumption and physical activity lowered the significance of the relationship. After considering all the factors the researchers concluded that meditation is probably associated with a lower prevalence of cardiovascular risk, but note that while the findings suggest it can improve cardiovascular health “we would need a powerful study such as a clinical trial to determine whether meditation could benefit cardiovascular health in veterans."
Meditation is simple, cost effective, low risk, and can be done just about anywhere at any time. There are many forms of meditation, most of which focus on attention and awareness. Meditation has been shown to help increase physical and mental relaxation to promote a sense of calm, peace and stress reduction that can lead to improved emotional well being; and it has been linked to decreased stress, increased mindfulness and improved psychological health, and it may lead to long term functional and anatomical changes in the brain.
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