Mindfulness is a centuries-old practice that's become trendy in recent years -- and a new study now says it can help your heart health.
Training in mindfulness can help people better manage their high blood pressure by helping them stick to healthy lifestyle changes, a new clinical trial reports.
An eight-week customized mindfulness program helped people lower their systolic blood pressure by nearly 6 points during a six-month follow-up period, researchers found.
That was significantly better than the 1.4-point reduction that occurred in people undergoing usual blood pressure care, researchers said during a presentation Sunday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The results could be relevant to a patient's health, given that previous studies have found that a 5-point drop in systolic pressure translates to a 10% lower risk of heart attack and stroke, said lead researcher Eric Loucks, director of the Mindfulness Center at Brown University.
"If we can train people in mindfulness skills and then apply those skills to people's relationships with the things that we know influence blood pressure -- like physical activity or diet or antihypertensive medication adherence or alcohol consumption -- we might be able to boost the effects" of their prescribed blood pressure control plan, Loucks said.
For example, in this study participants armed with mindfulness training tended to exercise more and eat better, he noted.
About 46% of Americans have high blood pressure, but only about half of them have it under control, Loucks said.
Loucks and his colleagues recruited about 100 people with elevated and untreated blood pressure to attend weekly group training sessions in mindfulness. These people also went to an all-day mindfulness retreat.
Mindfulness training enhances people's self-awareness of their own thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, helping them pay attention to their responses and regulate their emotions, Loucks said.
In this instance, mindfulness helps people perceive and acknowledge how they feel after they make good choices that improve their blood pressure, he said.
"Just about everybody feels good after physical activity, often for hours, and dietary choices can make a big impact on how we feel on the body and the mind. For example, some people, when they eat something sweet, they get a sugar high and then a sugar crash," Loucks said. "So we just notice that, with nonjudgmental, curious awareness, and then act in skillfully in response to what we're detecting."
The researchers then compared how well the patients controlled their blood pressure for six months to another group of 100 patients that were given the usual care: a home blood pressure monitor, education on managing blood pressure and access to a doctor.
"We saw pretty nice reductions in blood pressure over six months of follow-up compared to the control group," Loucks said.
Further analysis found that people in the mindfulness group were more likely to eat heart-healthy foods, exercise more and indulge less often in sedentary behavior, Loucks said. They also reported lower levels of stress.
"I'd like to see this replicated by groups other than us, with longer follow-up time and more generalizable participant samples," Loucks said. "If that were to happen and the results held, it could be an appealing approach to help control the blood pressure of about half of Americans who have hypertension."
Such mindfulness training could support strategies that have already been proven to help control blood pressure, said Dr. Amit Khera, director of the preventive cardiology program at UT Southwestern in Dallas.
"We need complementary strategies to help lower blood pressure," Khera said. "Equally importantly, we need strategies to help people adopt the lifestyle habits that enable them to help lower their blood pressure."
The 6-point blood pressure reduction seen in the mindfulness patients "is clinically important, and it is meaningful," added Dr. Janani Rangaswami, director of the cardiorenal program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"This mindfulness-based approach, in addition to standard of care with pharmacotherapy, is a really welcome addition to the hypertension literature," Rangaswami said.
Harvard University has more on mindfulness.
SOURCES: Eric Loucks, PhD, director, Mindfulness Center, Brown University, Providence, R.I.; Amit Khera, MD, director, preventive cardiology program, UT Southwestern, Dallas; Janani Rangaswami, MD, director, cardiorenal program, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.; presentation, American Heart Association annual meeting, Chicago, Nov. 6, 2022