According to a report released last week by the American Heart Association (AHA), meditation may decrease heart disease risk factors by reducing stress, anxiety and blood pressure. Meditation practices can also help people quit smoking through learning to practice mindfulness.
"Neurophysiological and neuroanatomical studies demonstrate that meditation can have long-standing effects on the brain, which provide some biological plausibility for beneficial consequences on the physiological basal state and on cardiovascular risk," the report states.
"Overall, studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, although the overall quality and in some cases quantity of study data is modest," the statement adds.
The research committee examined 57 existing studies that delve into the effects of "sitting meditations" on heart disease. The researchers excluded any studies on meditation forms involving physical activity, like yoga or Tai Chi, because physical activity in and of itself helps prevent heart disease. Among the types of meditation studied were Samatha, vipassana, mindful meditation, zen meditation, raja yoga, loving-kindness, transcendental meditation and relaxation response.
According to Glenn N. Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was involved in the study, additional studies need to be done to conclusively determine the effect of meditation on the heart.
"Certainly, it would be desirable to have larger trials that follow patients for a longer period of time," Levine said, the Daily Mail reported.
"Since education on how to meditate is widely available and meditation has little if any risk associated with it, interested people may want to use these techniques, in addition to established medical and lifestyle interventions, as a possible way to lower heart risk," Levine said.
However, people should not rely on meditation as the primary treatment for heart disease, which can be curbed by controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, quitting smoking and remaining physically active.
"It's important that people understand that the benefits remain to be better established and that meditation is not a substitute for traditional medical care," Levine explained.
Although meditation, which has been around for centuries, is often linked to Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, it has been increasingly been used as a therapeutic mechanism to help with mindfulness and stress relief during the last few decades.