How To Use Your Mind to Lower Blood Pressure
Seventy percent of people with high blood pressure in the United States treat this disease with medication. If you are among the millions of people with hypertension, would you like to know how to use your mind to lower your blood pressure and avoid the side effects and expense of the drugs?
Your mind can be as good as drugs
The following news is important for several groups of people:
- If you are taking medication right now to treat hypertension
- If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure but haven’t started treatment yet
- If you are at risk for high blood pressure
- If you have a family member or friend who has high blood pressure
Experts at Kent State University recently published the results of their study of high blood pressure and meditation and found that use of a stress reduction program based on a common meditation technique called mindfulness can reduce blood pressure enough in some people so that they do not need drugs or they can at least delay that need. That program is appropriately called MBSR, or mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Mindfulness meditation is a technique that has been likened to watching a parade go by. That is, you sit quietly, breathe gently, and just let your thoughts go by without focusing on them, judging them, or getting caught up in them. In short, you just let it be and be present in the moment.
Use of this approach was shown to be effective in individuals who had borderline high blood pressure (prehypertension), which is defined as 120-139 mmHg systolic and 80 to 89 mmHg diastolic. Thirty percent of Americans have this form of the disease, which is associated with significant risks of cardiovascular disease.
How the study worked
This study was the first time MBSR had been evaluated in people with prehypertension. The 56 adults who participated in the study were not taking prescribed medication for their condition.
The adults were randomly assigned to one of two groups:
- Group 1 participated in an MBSR program, which involved attendance at one session (lasting 2.5 hours) per week for 8 weeks. Each session involved three types of mindfulness training (body scan exercises, sitting meditation, and yoga) led by an experienced instructor. The subjects were asked to practice at home as well
- Group 2 were shown a muscle relaxation exercise (progressive muscle relaxation) and given lifestyle advice regarding high blood pressure reduction
At the end of the 8 weeks:
- Individuals in the MBSR group had an average reduction in systolic pressure of nearly 5 mmHg and a drop in diastolic pressure of nearly 2 mmHg
- Participants in the control group had a less than 1 mmHg decline in systolic pressure and an increase of 1 mmHg in diastolic pressure
- No significant difference in blood pressure was recorded between the two groups when 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure readings were compared
According to Joel W. Hughes, PhD, who headed the study, although the modest declines in blood pressure were similar to those people often experience when taking blood pressure medication. He and the other authors concluded that MBSR resulted in a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure when compared with progressive muscle relaxation and that this drug-free approach may be a suitable complementary approach for people with prehypertension.
Other benefits of mindfulness meditation
Previous research has indicated that mindfulness meditation can be helpful with a wide range of health issues. For example:
- A study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases reported on the ability of mindfulness meditation to reduce stress and fatigue in people with rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or psoriatic arthritis
- A recent study published in the Australian Family Physician noted that “mindfulness based approaches can be very helpful in managing chronic pain”
- Patients with multiple sclerosis may experience relief from fatigue and depression when practicing mindfulness meditation
- Mindfulness was found to rival drugs in the treatment of depression relapse
- Although loneliness is not a disease, it can be stressful and depressing, and the practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to be helpful
The bottom line
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be an effective complementary tool for a variety of health concerns. This latest study has demonstrated that it is possible to use your mind to lower blood pressure and that this approach may be just as effective as drugs. If you are currently taking drugs for high blood pressure, do not stop using your medication without first speaking with your doctor.
CDC: Vital signs: prevalence, treatment, and control of hypertension—United States, 1999-2002 and 2005-2008. MMWR 2011; 60(4): 103-8
Hassed C. Mind-body therapies—use in chronic pain management. Australian Family Physician 2013 Mar; 42(30: 112-17
Hughes JW et al. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for prehypertension. Psychosomatic Medicine 2013 Oct.