February is American Heart Month. Last week we talked about the prevalence of heart disease (AKA cardiovascular disease) and the different forms it can take—heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. We learned that heart disease alone will cost the United States $13 billion this year. No wonder health care makes up a large portion of our national budget (debt). But what if we could cut costs...without reducing quality or quantity of care?
To cut costs we need to cut risk. And with heart disease still the leading cause of death in the world, we have a lot of room to work with. That’s the positive. Another positive is some new findings coming from a team of researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Maharishi University in Iowa, a natural medicine school.
The group discovered that reducing one’s risk of heart attack, stroke and overall death by up to 47% might be achieved in as little as 20 minutes, twice a day. Sounds like a miracle, right? Skeptical? Well the team collected data over a nine year period before coming to their conclusion, far longer than other studies that get national attention.
So what is this miracle? You might be thinking exercise, in which case you’re about half right. What the researchers studied for nine years was the affects of transcendental meditation—mental exercise—on overall health. They split up a group of 200 African-Americans with coronary heart disease. They assigned one group to meditate twice a day for just 20 minutes. The other group was given traditional methods for reducing heart disease risk (i.e. lifestyle changes).
The results were clear. The group assigned to meditate had a 47% reduction in heart attacks, strokes and deaths, with just 20 incidences over the nine years compared to 31 incidences in the traditional health education group. Overall, stress reduction with the transcendental meditation method was associated with a 43% reduction in risk for all cause mortality.
Lead researcher Dr. Robert Schneider says that “this is the first controlled clinical trial to show that long-term practice of this particular stress reduction program reduces the incidence of clinical cardiovascular events - that is, heart attacks, strokes and mortality."
There is one catch when comparing the meditation method to the lifestyle modification method. The group that was given instruction on traditional methods for combating heart disease, such as healthy diet and exercise, had a lower rate of compliance with their plan. The meditation group stuck to their plan much better, so the study does not provide an accurate measure of success for lifestyle changes.
In my opinion, after nearly five weeks now of Working for Wellness and trying to eat better, exercise and live healthier, I know that changing your habits is tough. Maybe the real story here is the fact that meditating twice a day for just 20 minutes can be an easier—and more effective—means to reduce stress and maintain a lower risk for heart disease and death. Having a plan that is easier to stick with is a huge advantage.
Think transcendental meditation sounds a bit wacky? There is a stigma attached to meditation in general that it’s all about incense, humming and a guy named Buddha. The truth is, anyone can meditate regardless of faith or particular belief system. Meditation is simply the calming of one’s mind and reenergizing the body.
Unfortunately, ‘turning off’ your brain—thinking nothing—is easier said than done, and is notorious for keeping people from getting a good night’s sleep (also not good for your stress levels). To get started, try focusing on something: a color, the sounds around you, or your own breathing. Pay attention to this thing and let it push all the other thoughts out of your head. See more info and tips on meditating here.
Here are a few more benefits of meditation courtesy of www.thehealthierlife.co.uk:
- Simple: The TM technique is a simple, effortless mental process practiced for 15–20 minutes twice a day, sitting quietly and comfortably in a chair with your eyes closed.
- Easily learned: The TM technique can be easily learned by anyone and is enjoyable to practice.
- Immediate benefits: The benefits of the TM technique are immediate and increase over time. The technique’s positive effects — for mind, body and relationships — have been verified by hundreds of research studies conducted at top medical schools and published in over 350 peer-reviewed scientific journals.
- No belief required: The TM technique does not involve belief or religion. In fact, you can be thoroughly skeptical and the technique can still be fully effective.
- Develops the total brain: Brain research shows that the TM technique develops the total brain, increasing creativity and intelligence and improving decision-making and problem-solving abilities.
- Reduces stress and high blood pressure: Medical school research funded by the National Institutes of Health shows that the TM technique is the most effective mind-body practice for reducing stress and stress-related disorders, including hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke and atherosclerosis.
Posted by Ben