But first, what is blood pressure and why should we be concerned if it’s high?
The mind is a powerful thing. And researchers have discovered that it may even have the power to control high blood pressure.
“Your heart pumps blood throughout your body, delivering oxygen to all your organs,” says Dr. Cassandra Edwards at Aurora Health Center in Waukesha, WI. “Stress, narrowing arteries and other issues can cause the heart to pump harder, raising the force – or pressure – of blood against vessel walls. Consistently high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, or stroke.”
Mindfulness is a calming meditation known to reduce stress. In a mindfulness practice, a person focuses on the present moment, accepting and paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong.
A new study evaluated the effect of mindfulness on high blood pressure. Mindfulness training is typically combined with standard medical care, and the study purposely included other health practices.
The 43 adults in the clinical trial were followed for 1 year. At the start of study, they had high (130/85 or higher) or elevated (120-130/80+) blood pressure. They attended at least 7 of 10 sessions of a mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction program. Along with mindfulness training, the participants were educated on how extra body weight, lack of exercise, salt intake and other risk factors can contribute to high blood pressure, and the importance of consistently taking their prescribed medications.
After 1 year, the researchers reported that the participants’ blood pressure readings remained lower than their readings at the start of the trial. Participants with systolic pressure over 140 saw the most benefit from the program, lowering their measurement by 15 on average.
Their ability in managing their own care also continued strong. Participants who had difficulty following recommended lifestyle changes before the study better maintained the healthy habits after 1 year.
The researchers agree that more testing needs to be done in this area.
“Although it’s unclear in this study the individual effect of mindfulness, health education and other practices on the results,” says Dr. Edwards, “it shows the benefit of being proactive in managing one’s own health for optimum wellness.”