Meditation could possibly help ward off heart disease, experts say.
The 7,000-year-old practice has the potential to reduce some risk factors for heart disease, according to a new review from the American Heart Association (AHA). Still, the AHA emphasized that meditation shouldn't replace the approaches that are considered the gold standard for preventing heart disease: leading a heart-healthy lifestyle and following medical recommendations.
More than $200 billion is spent on heart disease patients in the U.S. each year, so there's great interest in looking for inexpensive ways to help reduce people's risk of the disease, according to the review. [Mind Games: 7 Reasons You Should Meditate]
One potential option is meditation. About 8 percent of Americans report that they practice some form of meditation, according to the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the National Institutes of Health. And 17 percent of heart disease patients have expressed interest in participating in a clinical trial looking at the effects of meditation, the review said.
To better understand how meditation may reduce risk factors for heart disease, experts at the AHA reviewed existing research. The findings were published today (Sept. 28) in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The researchers included studies on many different types of meditation, including mindful meditation, Zen meditation, relaxation response and transcendental meditation. In general, most forms of meditation that the researchers looked at are practiced for at least 20 minutes, or once or twice a day.
The researchers found that meditation may be linked to decreased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improved sleep quality and overall well-being. Stress, anxiety, depression and poor sleep may be linked to heart disease risk, according to the review. Meditation may also help people stop smoking, the review found.
In addition, the practice may help lower blood pressure, although the researchers noted that there's not enough evidence to show how much it would lower blood pressure in a given individual, if at all.
Finally, the review noted that although there is some evidence that meditation may decrease a person's risk of a heart attack, more research is needed before any conclusions can be made.
The review found that overall, meditation may have a "possible benefit" on lowering heart disease risk, but more research is needed to conclude that "it has a definite role," lead author Dr. Glenn Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a statement. Until more is understood about the role of meditation in heart health, the best ways to prevent and treat heart disease include controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, quitting smoking and getting regular physical activity, Levine said.
But because meditation comes with few, if any, risks and is easy to learn, it's something that interested individuals could try in addition to the proven approaches to heart disease prevention, Levine said.
Originally published on Live Science.