Aug 07 , 2023
Meditation offers significant heart benefits. It helps reduce stress and anxiety, which can lower heart rate and blood pressure while reducing harmful hormones. (1)
There's more to heart attack and stroke prevention than medications, exercise, and diet. The latest research confirms that people who practice meditation are significantly less likely to have a heart attack or stroke or die within five years. "Meditation can be a useful part of cardiovascular risk reduction," says cardiologist Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School. "I do recommend it, along with diet and exercise. It can also help decrease the sense of stress and anxiety."
How does meditation affect you physiologically?
"It appears to produce changes in brain activity. It also can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress," says Dr. Bhatt. (1)
Potential Health Benefits of Meditation (2)
A growing body of research has found that meditation is beneficial to mental and physical health because of the effect it has on our stress response.
“The primary health benefit from meditation appears to be related to the general shift in the autonomic nervous system that decreases sympathetic tone and increases parasympathetic tone,” Cohen says.
The sympathetic nervous system is our fight-or-flight response, while our parasympathetic nervous system is rest-and-digest, she says.
“As humans, we’re wired to fight-or-flight very easily, since it’s a survival mechanism,” Cohen explains. “So we want and need more parasympathetic. When the parasympathetic system is stimulated, heart rate and breathing slow, stress hormones decrease, blood vessels dilate, and digestion is improved.”
In recent years, a growing body of scientific evidence has shown how a meditation practice can help improve health, including mental and emotional health. (2)
There are many types of meditation that can result in physiological benefits, such as guided meditation, which uses mental images to help you relax; Transcendental Meditation, which uses a repeated sound or phrase to help you empty your mind; and mindfulness meditation, which focuses on the present moment and helps you to accept it without judgment. To get in on the benefits, take the advice of Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Herbert Benson, a world-renowned expert in mind-body medicine. "Getting started is easy. You can learn in one minute. But you'll have to do it for at least 10 minutes a day to get the physiological effects," he says. (1)
Give it a try with this quick start guide
A basic meditation exercise from Harvard's Dr. Herbert Benson:
1. Sit quietly and close your eyes. Breathe slowly.
2. Relax all of your muscles, starting with your feet, legs, and thighs. Shrug your shoulders, roll your neck to the left and right.
3. On each "out" breath, say the word "peace."
4. When thoughts come to mind, decide to come back to them later, and repeat the word "peace."
5. Continue the exercise for at least 10 minutes. Repeat daily.
Creating the ambience:
Diffusing essential oils that help relax and reduce stress can also be beneficial for the heart. As always it is important to check with your healthcare provider that the oil you would like to use is appropriate for you. For example, if you have high blood pressure there are some oils that are stimulating and best avoided like rosemary.
Frankincense can be used to create a meditative calming atmosphere and support a relaxed quiet mind. Three to five drops can be put into a diffuser. Some other options include Absolute Essentials Tranquility or Stress Less which are lovely blends, or single essential oils like Lavender, these are all available in store.