Kent State and University of Pennsylvania Receive $3.6 Million to Study Meditation Effects on Blood Pressure

With a $3.64 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, two Kent State University researchers and their colleague from the University of Pennsylvania will study meditation effects on blood pressure

Does mindfulness meditation truly help in relieving stress and managing blood pressure? It is a popular technique, but until now no large-scale studies utilizing meditation have been conducted. With a $3.64 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, two Kent State University researchers and their colleague from the University of Pennsylvania will recruit and treat 180 individuals with elevated blood pressure from Northeast Ohio and Philadelphia to see if learning how to manage stress through mindfulness meditation or other stress management strategies can help keep them off antihypertensive medication.

David FrescoStarting in 2015, David Fresco, Ph.D., and Joel Hughes, Ph.D., both professors in the Department of Psychological Sciences in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Jeffrey Greeson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, will conduct a five-year study called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for High Blood Pressure.” The new clinical trial to study participants will be announced as the “Serenity Study.”

In Northeast Ohio, adults between the ages of 30-60 years old will receive treatment at University Hospitals through its Connor Integrative Medicine Network, led by its Medical Director Francoise Adan, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry in the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

To help them in their efforts to live a healthier lifestyle, patients will receive one of two programs that teach strategies to better manage stress. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through meditation is a proven stress-reduction program that was shown to reduce blood pressure in a smaller trial of patients led by Hughes and Fresco in 2006. MBSR will be compared to Stress Management Education (SME), a program that attempts to help people manage stress without teaching them to meditate. Additionally, all participants in the study will receive standard information from the American Heart Association on how to eat healthy and exercise for lower blood pressure. 

Joel Hughes


Joel Hughes, Ph.D., (pictured) a professor in Kent State's Department of Psychological Sciences, will work with fellow Kent State Professor David Fresco, Ph.D., and a colleague from the University of Pennsylvania to to study mindfulness meditation as a method to control high blood pressure.

“For most of these patients, this will be their last and best chance to stay off medications,” Fresco says.  “Although nearly half of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure, only one in three patients can successfully control their high blood pressure with conventional treatment, including lifestyle modifications and, if needed, antihypertensive medication.”

Stress is known to increase blood pressure by activating the sympathetic nervous system (to make the heart pump harder and the blood vessels constrict) and by interfering with health behaviors, including diet, exercise and sleep.

"We’ve long known of a simple straightforward way to manage one’s blood pressure,” Fresco says. “It involves following a regimen of diet and exercise. Trouble is, things that are simple are not always easy. Many of us struggle to follow a healthy lifestyle, and stress makes it so much harder. We believe that teaching individuals skills for stress management, such as mindfulness meditation, may help them deal with stress head-on and strengthen their resolve to make a healthy lifestyle a priority in their lives."

“Previous studies we’ve conducted found that mindfulness meditation reduced blood pressure more than relaxation training,” Hughes says. “However, that was a small preliminary study, and we had difficulty recruiting a diverse sample. This new larger study will be conducted in the urban communities of Cleveland and Philadelphia.”

Find more information about Kent State’s Department of Psychological Sciences

POSTED: Monday, September 15, 2014 11:28 AM
Updated: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 02:14 PM