Meditation is largely a practice of the mind but the connection between the mind and the body is such that it’s not uncommon for people to experience physical benefits from meditation. That’s what researchers realized when they found a much lower prevalence of coronary artery disease among people who regularly meditate.
Practicing meditation can be done in a variety of ways. Many of its adherents have reported decreased stress, greater mindfulness and improved psychological health. Other studies have shown a link between meditation and physical health. This study was designed to add to that body of knowledge.
The study published in the American Journal of Cardiology analyzed data from more than 61,000 participants from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. Almost 10 percent of the survey group reported participating in some form of meditation.
Those who said they meditate had fewer incidences of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and coronary artery disease compared to those who did not meditate. The biggest difference was in the rates of coronary artery disease. Those who meditate were found to have been half as likely to have it compared to those who did not meditate.
Researchers controlled for factors that affect cardiovascular risk such as age, sex, smoking and BMI and still found meditation’s impact was significant. However, alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity seemed to lessen meditation’s effect on cardiovascular risk.
Lead researcher Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston said, "I believe in meditation, as it can give us a sense of calm, peace, and stress reduction, leading to improvement of our emotional well-being. “We would need a powerful study such as a clinical trial to determine whether meditation could benefit cardiovascular health in veterans."
Researchers said their findings mirrored those of a 2017 study from the American Heart Association when it comes to meditation reducing several cardiovascular risks. However, they stopped short of celebrating meditation as the causative agent. They conceded those who meditate could also have of a healthier lifestyle when it comes to exercise and diet but believe meditation also plays a role.
They also conceded they did not have data on what types of meditation was practiced and for how long. They believe further study will help determine what types of meditation as well as frequency and duration will be helpful in further assessing meditation’s impact on cardiovascular health.