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Science

Meditation could help against heart disease, U.S. experts say

By Stephanie Ma

Meditation could potentially reduce some risk factors for heart disease when practised alongside proven approaches such as a healthy lifestyle and cholesterol-lowering drugs, U.S. experts say.

Although a myriad of published studies has already shed light on the long-term merits of mediation, it wasn’t until recently did the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement concerning the effects of meditation on the heart.

At the moment, mediation could be considered as a form of standard treatment for heart problems in addition to the likes of lowering cholesterol levels, losing weight and stopping smoking, according to the AHA guideline.

Cardiovascular disease experts have evaluated researches so as to find out whether sitting meditation including Vipassana (Insight Meditation), Mindful Meditation, Zen Meditation (Zazen), Raja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, and Relaxation Response had an established impact on cardiovascular risk factors and disease, omitting mind-body practices like yoga and Tai Chi as both have already been proven to effectively lower the risk of the disease.

The findings highlighted that meditation is in high likelihood to be associated with declined levels of stress, anxiety, depression, improved sleep quality and the overall wellbeing.

In addition, it could also help lower blood pressure, but experts stressed that current research data is not conclusive enough to deduce as to whether or how much blood pressure might decline for individuals. Other studies have also put forward that it might help people quit smoking, the guidelines concluded.

“Meditation may help lower the risk of heart disease by countering the impact of stress on the body”, said Dr James Stahl, a researcher at the Geisel Medical School at Dartmouth College who was not involved in the guidelines. Triggering the opposite of a fight or flight response, it encourages the body to relax and hence improve heart disease risk factors such as metabolic problems, inflammation and the like.

“With regular practice, meditation may also help improve quality of life, especially emotional and spiritual aspects”, said Bei-Hung Chang, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in a recent email interview with Reuters News. “Once learned, the technique can be practised anytime and in any place, and integrated into one’s way of life.”

Analyzing eight different types of mediation and their blessings on various heart disease risk factor and outcomes, AHA research review concludes that mediation may have benefits beyond merely reducing stress. From heart attack to blood pressure, stress, atherosclerosis and smoking cessation, “Overall, the studies are encouraging,” says Dr. Glenn Levine, chair of the AHA and American College of Cardiology task force on clinical practice guidelines.

Existing findings and data are still too small or poorly designed to draw a clear conclusion and justify further recommendations both for or against meditation in reducing the risk of heart disease. However, Levine believes that those who are keen on improving their heart health should consider incorporating meditation into their daily routine, in addition to other practices that have already been scientifically proven to lower heart disease risk.

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