Does meditation improve anxiety and cardiovascular risk?

'You just feel so much better. It lowers your blood pressure, calms your nerves and improves your mood and your immunity.'

Does meditation improve anxiety and cardiovascular risk?

Recent news articles are touting the benefits of meditation and other mindfulness activities such as yoga in reducing anxiety and some cardiovascular risks. Studies on this issue are small with not many participants and tend to be localized. For Thaslim Kassim, M.D., a Sanford Health cardiologist in Fargo, North Dakota, they are a good starting point.

“I always tell my patients about anxiety reduction. I really believe in it,” he said.

The American Heart Association doesn’t have a hard-and-fast ruling about this issue in its guidelines. However, it agrees there is a chance that routine meditation can reduce the signs of anxiety, decrease stress hormones like cortisol and reduce blood pressure and inflammation, resulting in improved heart function.

Learn more: The power of meditation

Dr. Kassim said he encourages his patients with coronary artery disease or who recently had cardiac surgery to try some type of relaxation technique.

”Just 15 to 20 minutes a day of relaxing the body, doing deep breathing techniques such as those used in yoga, improves the oxygen level in the tissues and can help those with high blood pressure bring it down 5 to 10 milliliters. It won’t take away the need for medication, but it can support that medication, and in some patients, support weight loss as well,” he said.

“It’s very simple to do, and you don’t need equipment. All you need is a place to sit and a few minutes of quiet. Early in the morning when you first wake up, do some deep breathing, focus on your body. If you can do this on a regular basis, just 10 minutes a day, it can have a long-term effect.”

‘Breathing can release stress’

Christina Muhs, supervisor at Sanford Health’s cardiac rehab program in Fargo agrees with Dr. Kassim.

“Probably 70 to 80 percent of post-heart event patients have some sort of anxiety or suffer from stress, behavioral health issues, anger, etc. Allowing yourself to focus on breathing can release stress. You just feel so much better. It lowers your blood pressure, calms your nerves and improves your mood and your immunity,” she said.

“We start all our cardiac rehab sessions with education, many times focusing on stress. We really strive to help each of our patients individually by asking about their stress level and how we can help. Maybe they need more assistance at home, or they don’t have family close by.”

Cardiac rehab staff connects patients with counselors, health coaches, social workers and others who can provide care.

The rehab sessions end with light stretches and deep breaths, focusing on one part of the body. Muhs said that while the program doesn’t offer yoga classes, if it’s something patients want to try, the staff will help them find it.

“Yoga is available many places in the community. We also recommend various (smartphone or tablet) apps and we do stress profilers. We want to make sure all our patients have a game plan for success when they finish cardiac rehab.”

Dr. Kassim is optimistic that larger-scale studies on the benefits of meditation in heart disease will be done.

“Current studies are small, but we see benefits. We need more studies, but at the same time, telling my patients to meditate for 10 minutes a day will not harm them in any way,” he said.

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Posted In Health Information, Heart