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Meditation Could Help Smokers Cut Down, Study Hints

A month later, those trained in technique smoked less
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Learning a type of meditation technique might make it easier for smokers to cut down, at least on a short-term basis, new research suggests.

The finding is based on the experiences of just five smokers, and could be purely coincidental. Researchers found, however, that training other smokers how to relax had no effect on how much they smoked, a sign that there may indeed be something to the meditation approach.

So should smokers meditate if they want to smoke less?

"Sure, why not?" said study co-author Michael Posner, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon's department of psychology. "[Still], I can't say that all forms of meditation will produce these affects. It's likely that it depends on the brain state that the person is in, and there may be other ways to get into it."

Researchers have linked "mindfulness meditation" to a variety of health benefits. In just the past few years, it's been associated with relief from cold, flu, hot flashes and irritable bowel syndrome. It also has been linked to healthy changes in the brain itself.

Mindfulness meditation is designed to help people to relax, focus on the current moment and, essentially, go with the flow of thoughts and sensations.

In the new study, researchers assigned 60 people -- 27 cigarette smokers and 33 nonsmokers with an average age of 21 -- to one of two groups. Each group went through five hours of training over two weeks in either mindfulness meditation or relaxation.

After the two weeks, the researchers gave breath tests to the smokers to see how much they'd been smoking. There was no change for those who learned to relax, but the measurement fell by 60 percent in those who learned how to meditate.

Five smokers who learned about meditation talked to researchers four weeks after the study and said they were still smoking less. However, "because the number was so small, we do not yet know exactly how long the reduction will last," the researchers said.

Posner said there are caveats to the research. The study is small, he said, and the participants were all college students. On the other hand, he said, most participants didn't know they were taking part in a smoking study.

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