Meditation can lower blood pressure.
Meditation can help maintain healthy blood pressure. It can also help lower high blood pressure, known as hypertension. Since high blood pressure / hypertension contributes to the major causes of disease and death, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, anything that can help maintain a healthy blood pressure or can lower high blood pressure deserves consideration. And that includes meditation.
Because the body is in such a relaxed state during meditation, even within minutes of starting a meditation, it requires less oxygen – up to 20 percent less depending on the experience of the person meditating as well as the type of meditation. Walking meditation, obviously, is going to require more oxygen than sitting meditation where the body is held still. This reduced need for oxygen allows the heart to beat fewer beats, usually from 3 to 10 percent less. It also allows the blood pressure to go down.
Blood pressure is actually two measurements. The first, called systolic pressure, is the pressure of the blood against an artery when the heart muscle contracts, or beats. Because the heart has beaten, this measurement is the higher of the two. The second measurement, called diastolic pressure, is pressure of the blood against an artery between heart beats. Thus, it is the lower of the two pressures. A healthy blood pressure of 120 over 80 means that the pressure on the artery during a heart beat is about 50 percent more than the pressure on the artery between beats. A pressure of 225 over 100 is too high because too much pressure can cause damage to the artery walls (and elsewhere in the body) over time.
Studies on meditation
Although the United States National Institute of Health is beginning to fund research studies on meditation, to date there are only about 120 or so studies, most done with only a small number of participants during a limited time span. Still, the results of even these limited studies are encouraging, since they nearly always show that meditation can lower both systolic and diastolic pressure an average of 3 to 10 mm.
One of the most encouraging results was from one of the longest studies, conducted at Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. The 201 high-risk heart patients, male and female were divided into two groups. One group meditated twice a day for 20 minutes; the control group relaxed but did not meditate. The group was followed for five years. The group meditating had 47 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes or death compared to the group that didn’t meditate. In other words, only 20 of the 100 meditators – and remember that most of them suffered damage from decades of high blood pressure – had suffered a heart attack, stroke or had died compared to 32 out of the 101 in the control group. In addition, the meditators tended to remain disease-free longer and to reduce their systolic blood pressure by an average of 5 mm. the meditators also had statistically significant reductions in psychological stress as measured by standard psychological tests.
What studies have failed to prove is that meditation can reduce hypertension enough for most people to no longer need medication for their high blood pressure. It can, however, help prevent high blood pressure. It can also reduce the medication a person with hypertension is taking, especially if meditation helps them lose weight, exercise or give up a harmful addiction or habit.
In a recent meta-analysis of nine randomized controlled studies of participants who also already had hypertension, or high blood pressure, the compiled results showed that meditation can reduce systolic pressure an average of 4.7 mm. and diastolic pressure an average of 3.2 mm. Nice., but what does this really tell us about the effect of meditation on blood pressure and in particular, on your blood pressure?
First, it tells us that it is only average and that you could drop your pressure more, as much as 10 to 20 mm. But if your pressure is exceedingly high to begin, say, 225 over 100, even that drop is going to be good but not good enough to stay off of medication or out of medical trouble.
Secondly, many of these studies show the effect of meditation on blood pressure but only while the participant is meditating. What happens after meditation? Does meditation lower blood pressure that evening? Can it lower it during a spat with a partner or spouse? Interestingly, the answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, because if – and granted, this is a big “if” – participants can use meditation to gain insight into the perplexing problems in their lives, if they can use the second half of Meditation Plus as it is meant to be used, then they can experience less overall stress in life. This reduction in stress can have a huge effect on health, not just cardiosvascular health, but also on the immune system, sleep, and diet. For example, by meditating and calming the midbrain, especially the hypothalamus, meditators can improve their ability to lose weight, to maintain a weight loss and to find the willpower to kick a bad habit like smoking, which is one of the number one causes of heart disease. (After only a few months of meditation, radio personality Howard Stern spontaneously quit smoking and never started again, either.)
Meditation helps high blood pressure in other ways
Meditation can give someone the incentive to exercise. It can help someone gain creativity, insight, and calmness, all of which can vastly improve relationships, work, and life in general. After all, the happier a person can be and the less they experience depression and anxiety, the better chance they have to maintain a healthy blood pressure and to avoid elevating their blood pressure.
Here is still one more reason to learn to meditate. Many people experience what is called “white coat syndrome.” This is when just being in a doctor’s office or having their blood pressure taken can raise their blood pressure as much as 20 points. Typically, blood pressure can rise that much temporarily without long-term risk. However, if that rise occurs during, say, an insurance exam, where the report will count towards your life insurance rate, it pays to learn how to meditate. That’s because experienced meditators can practice meditation preparation, such as deep breathing or merely think of their mantras and lower their blood pressure instantly. And that is going to keep the blood pressure reading during that exam lower than if they had not learned to meditate!
Summary of what meditation can do for your heart, your blood pressure, and your cardiovascular health
Meditation can decrease blood pressure while you meditate. Probably most significant, however, is that meditation may have a more profound, albeit indirect, effect on your cardiovascular health if it can help you lose weight, maintain a weight loss, eat healthier, sleep better, overcome an addiction or never become addicted, overcome depression and anxiety, and have less stress in life or improve the way you deal with the stress there is in your life. Most importantly, other studies of meditation (that can be found elsewhere on this site) prove the power of meditation to make you happier. And such happiness is good for your heart, good for your blood pressure and good for your cardiovascular health.
There are over 120 studies about meditation listed on clinicaltrials.gov, which is a clearinghouse of research that is supported by the National Institute of Health.