Black teens at risk of becoming hypertensive adults lowered their pressures with just two 15-minute meditation sessions a day, a Georgia physiologist reports.
The results held even four months after the four-month study ended, said Vernon A. Barnes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and lead author of the study, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Hypertension.
“We set up school sessions that were supervised,” he said. Then the teens were instructed to meditate for another 15 minutes at home.
“More than 70 percent said they were compliant,” Barnes said, reporting that they did indeed complete the two meditation sessions.
His study focused on 156 inner-city black teens in Augusta, Ga., who all had blood pressure in the “high-normal” range. Half were in the group practicing transcendental meditation; the other half got information at school about how to lower blood pressure, such as following a low-salt diet and getting more physical activity.
Those who did meditation achieved lower pressures, Barnes said. “The drop in blood pressure was 3.5 in systolic [the top number that indicates the pressure inside blood vessels that the heart is pumping against] and 3.4 in diastolic [the bottom number that indicates pressure while the heart is at rest].”
The group that got only information had no significant change in pressure from the beginning of the study to the end, he said.
On average, he said, the TM students’ blood pressures were about 129 systolic at the start and dropped to about 125 at four months and at the four-month follow-up. The diastolic pressures started out at about 75 [a normal level], he said, and were down to a little more than 71 at the study end and to 72.9 at the four-month follow up. A pressure of below 120 over 80 is termed optimal.
The improvements were maintained at the follow-up after the formal stop of the study, Barnes added. Similar studies have found the same long-lasting benefits in adults, he added.
TM is a simple mental procedure, performed while you are sitting comfortably with eyes closed. Advocates say it puts practitioners in a “unique state of restful alertness” that helps dissolve stress and fatigue as it boosts creativeness, orderliness and other good characteristics.
Exactly how it might lower blood pressure isn’t known for sure, Barnes said. It may decrease sympathetic nervous system tone and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, among other actions, and that could lead to blood pressure reduction.
High blood pressure affects one in four adults in the United States and is a major risk factor of heart attack and stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure has its origins in childhood, Barnes said, and blacks are at an increased risk for getting it.
“Based on our study, we would say that transcendental meditation should be considered as an option” to reduce the number of at-risk teens who go on to develop hypertension, Barnes said. Practiced over the long term, he said, it might ward off high blood pressure in adulthood.
Anecdotally, the students reported other benefits they attributed to their meditation habit, he said, including improved academic and athletic performance.
“This is a seminal study,” said Robert Roth, director of communications and a veteran meditation instructor at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. “Dr. Barnes’ study is solid and convincing.”
The cost of implementing meditation programs in schools, he said, “is next to nothing.” His university approaches outside sources for funding. One example of a successful program, he said, is in a Detroit-area middle school, “where 160 children and teachers have meditated every day for seven years.”
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