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Meditation May Cut Heart Disease Death

Path to Enlightenment Could Lower Risk of Dying in People at Risk for High Blood Pressure
WebMD Health News

May 2, 2005 -- Want to live longer? Good genes, plenty of exercise, and eating right should help, but you might also want to sit down, close your eyes, and breathe.

There is increasing evidence that meditation is not only good for the soul, but for the body as wellmeditation is not only good for the soul, but for the body as well. It has been embraced by Western medicine as a powerful tool for lowering stress, reducing chronic pain, and even lowering blood pressure.

Now comes word that it can also prolong your life. A follow-up of two studies of transcendental meditationtranscendental meditation (TM) conducted in the late 1980s and mid-1990s showed that people who had normal to high blood pressure and who practiced the technique were 23% less likely to die than people who did not.

The TM group had a 30% decrease in the rate of deaths due to heart disease and stroke and a 50% reduced rate of cancer deaths. However, the number of cancers was not large enough in these studies for this to be a significant finding.

TM advocate Robert H. Schneider, MD, of the Maharishi University Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, tells WebMD that one of the most significant findings was that meditation appeared to be as effective as drug therapy for preventing deaths from heart disease.

"None of the conventionally recommended nondrug treatments for hypertension, such as salt restriction, exercise, and even weight loss, have been proven to have an impact on deaths from heart disease," he says. "This is the first time that I am aware of that any nondrug treatment has been shown to do this."

Living in the Moment

There is no denying that meditation has gone mainstream. No longer the exclusive domain of New Age types, more than 10 million Americans now practice some form of meditation on a regular basis. For many, the practice has been recommended by a physician.

At New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, psychologist Patricia Vroom, PhD, teaches meditation to cancer patients. The aim is not to cure their cancer but to help them reduce anxiety and stress.

"Meditation can be very empowering because it really teaches us to live in the moment," she says. "For some patients it is life changing, and for others it ends up being just a way to relax."

Vroom says her research shows that cancer patients who meditate develop better coping skills. Compared with patients who joined support groups, the meditating patients in her study tended to trust themselves more to manage their stress.

"People in the meditation group tended to look within themselves, while the support group patients looked outside themselves," she tells WebMD.

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