Is meditation a purely spiritual exercise? Not so sure! It seems that meditation may also have a physiological effect. According to a study conducted by an American university, individuals with heart disease might therefore benefit from this form of contemplation.
The 201 African Americans who took part in the study had an average age of 59 and suffered from a narrowing of the arteries in their hearts. Half of the participants were given education on traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as diet and a sedentary lifestyle. The other half were taught to meditate and were asked to do so for 20 minutes, twice a day. Nine years later, four out of five still meditated at least once a day. However, few of the participants who had only been given education had made the lifestyle changes according to the recommendations they had been given.
At the end of the study, fewer cardiovascular events (deaths, heart attacks and strokes) were recorded in the meditation group than in the other group, representing a 47 percent risk reduction for those who practiced meditation. In the group where meditation had been practiced, the average blood pressure was significantly lower (5mm Hg). The researchers also observed that there was a significant reduction in psychological stress in some participants. These two factors played an important role in reducing risk. In fact, the impact that daily meditation had was comparable to the effect that would be obtained by giving each patient a drug from a newly discovered class of medication to prevent heart disease.
This study involved African Americans, but it corroborates the findings of previous studies that had shown the benefits of meditation on blood pressure and stress, regardless of ethnicity. Larger-scale studies will be necessary to confirm the effects of meditation on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. For now, if meditation appeals to you, you have an additional incentive for trying it!