Kent State University Research Finds Meditation Effective in Reducing Blood Pressure
Two researchers at Kent State University have found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce high blood pressure, which affects nearly 60 million adults in the United States.
MBSR, which involves the practice of meditation, body awareness and some gentle yoga, has been shown to be effective in preventing and treating depression and anxiety and alleviating stress, but scientific studies of its effects on blood pressure are rare.
In a paper published Oct. 15 in Psychosomatic Medicine, Joel W. Hughes, Ph.D., and David M. Fresco, Ph.D., both associate professors of psychology at Kent State, reported that MBSR “may be an appropriate complementary treatment” for patients who prefer lifestyle changes and stress-management approaches to treating high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Their two-year study involved 56 adults in Northeast Ohio. Study participants who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significant decreases in blood pressure measurements compared with participants who received another therapy, progressive muscle relaxation.
The adults who entered the study were “pre-hypertensive,” meaning that they displayed higher levels of blood pressure but not quite high enough to take medication. One question left unanswered by the study, its authors say, is whether meditation can help individuals whose hypertension has crossed into the range commonly treated by medication or whether a combination of meditation and medication will work better than either treatment alone.
The mindfulness-based participants in the study used body scan exercises, sitting meditation and yoga. They practiced MBSR for eight weeks, attending sessions led by a skilled practitioner two and a half hours a week and practicing up to an hour a day on their own.
They lowered their clinic blood pressure measurements – the type of measurement commonly taken in a doctor’s office – as much as other alternative treatments, such as modified diet and exercise, have been shown to do. The use of MBSR was only slightly less effective than blood pressure medication, says Hughes.
The reasons for seeking alternatives to medication can include a desire to avoid side effects. Adherence to medication for hypertension is often poor, Hughes noted, and some patients do not improve their blood pressure levels by taking pills.
Fresco likened the practice of MBSR to going to a gym for fitness. “It’s all about training this attention muscle in the brain,” he says. The goal is to reduce stress and strengthen the resolve to change behavior patterns.
This was the first scientific study in the U.S. to document that MBSR, an increasing popular practice, can have an effect on high blood pressure, he said.
The study was funded by a $545,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Hughes and Fresco were co-principal investigators. They are preparing to follow up with a longer study involving 180 adults to find out whether the effects of MBSR practice on blood pressure are lasting.
One of Fresco’s research interests is the use of mindfulness meditation in psychosocial treatments, and Hughes conducts research in cardiovascular behavioral medicine. They are frequent collaborators and have partnered with area medical facilities on their research.
For more information about Kent State’s Department of Psychology, visit www.kent.edu/cas/psychology.
For more information about research at Kent State, visit www.kent.edu/research.