Meditation is a mind-body exercise that helps reduce stress. Studies have shown that a form of meditation known as transcendental meditation (TM) can help lower blood pressure. High blood pressure , along with high cholesterol, abdominal obesity, and insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes ), are all risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD). Together, these symptoms are referred to as metabolic syndrome .

In a study published in the June 12, 2006 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine , researchers sought to determine whether TM helped control the other components of metabolic syndrome, in addition to blood pressure. They found that CHD patients who practiced transcendental meditation had significantly lower blood pressure and insulin resistance, compared to patients whom received standard health education.

About the Study

The researchers recruited 103 men and women with CHD. At the beginning and end of the study, all participants gave blood samples after an overnight fast, which were tested for total cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, triglycerides (a noncholesterol fat linked to CHD), and insulin resistance. In addition, the participants’ blood pressures were measured, and they answered questions about physical activity level; medications; and levels of depression, anxiety, anger, and stress.

After the initial testing, 52 study subjects were assigned to participate in 16 weeks of transcendental meditation classes and meetings. The remaining 51 patients attended 16 weeks of health education classes that covered CHD risk factors, diet, exercise, and the impact of stress.

At the end of the 16-week study, the patients in the TM group had significantly lower blood pressure and significantly reduced insulin resistance, compared to patients in the health education group.

How Does This Affect You?

This study found that, compared to education, a relaxation technique known as transcendental meditation significantly reduced blood pressure and insulin resistance, two important risk factors for coronary heart disease. While this is an interesting and worthwhile finding, the researchers cannot say whether TM actually reduces the risk of heart disease or death from heart disease, a much more meaningful result.

Everyone knows that you have to eat right and exercise to maintain good heart health. But stress as a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, and in turn CHD, often goes overlooked. Most of us feel stressed by the unending demands of work and family. Meditation won’t address the the source of your stress, but it may reduce your perception of being stressed and help your body adapt to your stressful life in a healthier way.