CHICAGO — A custom mindfulness program which teaches people how to have healthy relationships with their diet, physical activity, alcohol use, and stress can help lower blood pressure for at least six months, a new study finds.
A team with the American Heart Association found that eight weeks of mindfulness training significantly lowers systolic blood pressure readings — the top number in a blood pressure measurement. The training focused on attention control, meditation, self-awareness, and emotion regulation, using weekly group sessions and daily mindfulness exercises.
Researchers note that nearly half of all U.S. adults have high blood pressure — also known as hypertension. Unfortunately, many are unaware they even have the condition, according to the AHA. High blood pressure refers to a consistently high force of blood flowing through a patient’s blood vessels. The condition is a major risk factor for heart disease — the number one cause of death worldwide.
“Mindfulness is non-judgmental, present-moment awareness of physical sensations, emotions and thoughts,” says lead study author Eric Loucks, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Mindfulness Center at Brown University, in a media release.
“It is almost like a scientist curiously and objectively observing the information coming in through the sense organs and the mind, and then responding skillfully to that information. Mindfulness also involves the concept of remembering, or in other words, remembering to bring one’s wisdom (wherever it was gained, such as from health care professionals or public health messages) into the present moment. Wisdom in the context of elevated blood pressure levels may include knowledge that evidence-based practices, such as physical activity, diet, limited alcohol consumption and antihypertensive medication adherence, can improve well-being.”
Mindfulness training can lower blood pressure by 6 points
During the study, researchers compared patients using enhanced usual care — which includes a home blood pressure monitor, blood pressure education material, and access to a doctor if necessary — to those taking the eight-week mindfulness-based program. Study authors customized this program specifically for people with high blood pressure.
The participant group included over 200 adults from the Providence, Rhode Island area who all had high blood pressure, meaning their readings were higher than 120 mm Hg systolic or 80 mm Hg diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Nearly six in 10 were women (59%) and had an average age of 59.
Called Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP), the group participating in mindfulness training did eight 2.5-hour weekly group sessions and a 7.5-hour, one-day group retreat. They also participated in 45 minutes of mindfulness training at home six days a week.
Results show the Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction group saw their systolic blood pressure drop by an average of 5.9 mm Hg. Those using enhanced usual care only saw their blood pressure drop by 1.4 mm Hg. While systolic blood pressure changed, neither group saw their diastolic blood pressure drop.
In addition to improving their blood pressure, the mindfulness group also engaged in far fewer sedentary activities over the six months. Those in mindfulness training reduced their sedentary sitting by an average of 351 minutes each week. Those doing mindfulness training were also more likely to eat a heart-healthy diet and experienced less stress during the course of the study.
The researchers presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022.