'Calm Down' Study Tests Meditation as Aid in Controlling Blood Pressure

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Low Blood Pressure and Meditation

A new study under way at Duke University Medical Center is looking at whether practicing meditation and relaxation techniques can lower blood pressure by reducing the effects of stress in our daily lives. James Lane, Ph.D., associate research professor of medical psychology in the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, heads the research project, known as the "Calm Down" study.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to serious health problems, including strokes, heart disease and kidney disease. In addition to prescription medicines, diet, exercise, quitting smoking and losing weight can all help lower high blood pressure. Many researchers also believe that reducing stress may have the same beneficial effect.

"What we're trying to do in the 'Calm Down' study is to test whether teaching people techniques of meditation and relaxation will help them reduce their stress and lower their blood pressure," Lane says.

"One of the benefits of this kind of technique is that this is something people can do for themselves," says Lane. "Another benefit is that it fits in with everything else they're trying to do, including the medications they take. These kinds of techniques also have no side effects that we're aware of, and people can practice them without worrying what the long-term consequences might be."

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According to Lane, there is nothing magical or difficult about learning the techniques, and they could play a role in improved health.

"Meditation and relaxation are simple and effective techniques that we can teach people in four one-hour classes," he says. "We think, though, that the real benefits will come from regular, daily practice, and this is what we try to encourage people to do."

The "Calm Down" study is funded by the National Institutes of Health through the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. The study is projected to last up to two years and will enroll approximately 120 individuals with hypertension or blood pressure near hypertensive levels. Subjects in the study will learn meditation or relaxation techniques in several brief sessions and continue supervised practice for three months.

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