Page last updated at 00:18 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Meditation 'eases heart disease'

Woman meditating
Heart patients saw a big risk reduction from practising meditation

Heart disease patients who practise Transcendental Meditation have reduced death rates, US researchers have said.

At a meeting of the American Heart Association they said they had randomly assigned 201 African Americans to meditate or to make lifestyle changes.

After nine years, the meditation group had a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes.

The research was carried out by the Medical College of Wisconsin with the Maharishi University in Iowa.

It was funded by a £2.3m grant from the National Institute of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

'Significant benefits'

The African American men and women had an average age of 59 years and a narrowing of the arteries in their hearts.

Introduced in India in 1955 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
In the 60s the Beatles popularised it by travelling to India to learn the technique from the Maharishi
The Maharishi Foundation says TM is a programme for the development of consciousness
Courses are only available through the foundation
They cost from £190 for students to £590 for people with incomes over £40,000

The meditation group were asked to practise for 20 minutes twice a day.

The lifestyle change group received education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.

Over nine years, there were 20 events (heart attacks, strokes or death) in the meditation group and 31 in the health education group.

Dr Robert Schneider, lead author and director of the Centre for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the Maharishi University in Iowa said:

"At the end of the 9 years, 80% of the meditation group were still practising at least once a day.

"But there was very little change in the health education group.

"Their lifestyle was much the same in terms of diet and exercise - it's a very difficult thing to make those changes."

As well as the reductions in death, heart attacks and strokes in the meditating group, their average blood pressure was significantly lower (5mm Hg), and there was a significant reduction in psychological stress in some participants.

Dr Schneider said other studies had shown the benefits of Transcendental Meditation on blood pressure and stress, irrespective of ethnicity.

"This is the first controlled clinical trial to show that long-term practise of this particular stress reduction programme reduces the incidence of clinical cardiovascular events, that is heart attacks, strokes and mortality," he said.

Dr Schneider said that the effect of Transcendental Meditation in the trial was like adding a class of newly discovered drugs for the prevention of heart disease.

He said: "In this case, the new medications are derived from the body's own internal pharmacy stimulated by the Transcendental Meditation practice."

Ingrid Collins, a consultant educational psychologist at the London Medical Centre, said: "I'm not at all surprised that a change of behaviour like this can have enormous benefits both emotionally and physically.

"Physical and emotional energy is on a continuum and whatever happens to us physically can affect our emotions and vice versa."

British Heart Foundation Cardiac Nurse Ellen Mason said: "This is a fascinating area and the results were impressive.

"However, in order to fully assess the difference transcendental meditation could have on heart patient's lives, we need to see research confirming it in a far bigger study and with other ethnic groups."

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