Life is busy, stressful, and getting more hectic every day. Don’t let the tick of time affect your ticker negatively. Magic your heart to good health with meditation!
Taking a few minutes to relax each day could help you exponentially lower your risk of heart disease. Daily meditation is a practice that often uses deep breathing, quiet contemplation, or sustained focus on something benign such as a color, phrase, or repetitive sound (known as a mantra) that helps you let go of stress, free yourself of anxiety, feel peaceful, and maintain a relaxed, clear state of mind. Think of it as a daily vacation from the stress in your life.
Mindfulness and meditation have become buzzwords in recent years but, could a six-minute relaxation actually benefit your heart? Well, it looks like a regular meditation practice could help to lower stress, high blood pressure and help you sleep better. All of which supports a healthy heart and overall well being.
Here are seven ways meditation can help your heart:
- Reduce stress
- Ease feelings of anxiety
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure
- Decrease inflammation
- Improve sleep
- Reduce harmful hormones
- Lower cholesterol
The Effects of Stress on the Body
Stress, pressure, and anxiety are, unfortunately, part of modern society. Americans are among the most stressed population with more than half experiencing stress every day. One of the major causes of stress is the workplace, with 83% of U.S workers suffering from work-related stress. Every year, U.S businesses lose $300 billion due to workplace stress.
Stress is your body’s natural alarm system. It releases a powerful hormone called adrenaline that causes your breathing and heart rate to quicken and your blood pressure to rise. However, this primal “fight or flight” response and heavy adrenaline cascade flowing through your veins can take a massive toll on your body if it’s consistently repeated over time. It is unhealthy to live as if there’s always a threat waiting around the next corner to annihilate you.
Instead of dealing with real predators as our ancestors did, many of the monsters that cause us stress now are the ones created in our minds. What I’m saying is a bit esoteric, but follow me on this: there are few stressful events— it’s usually our thoughts, fears, and judgments about those events that create acute stress responses in our bodies. To feel stressed-out about something is often a choice based on our interpretation, judgment, and reaction to it. The proverbial saber-toothed tiger chasing us down in the wild has been replaced by money worries, family dramas, work stresses, and a multitude of other modern psychological maladies. The problem is that your body can’t tell the difference between a real physical threat and an image in your mind, so it continues to release the same stress hormones in response.
Stress and Heart Health
Stress is a normal part of life but when it’s constant and ongoing, it can lead to serious side effects. Experts believe that stress can increase your risk of heart disease. Research shows that long-term exposure to the stress hormone, cortisol, can increase blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides. All of these are common risk factors for heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one person dying every 37 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is a serious problem that affects so many lives every year. By taking the time to focus on your heart health now, you can protect yourself in the future.
Heart disease refers to a range of conditions that affect your heart. Under the umbrella term, you have health problems like heart defects, heart rhythm problems, and coronary artery disease. Although some risk factors of heart disease are out of your control, you do have the ability to control others. Things like diet, physical activity, stress, and smoking all contribute to heart disease.
Stress alone isn’t a guarantee of heart problems, however, stress is often accompanied by other bad habits like smoking or drinking alcohol. People who feel constantly stressed might turn to bad habits in order to deal with stress. Stress not only affects your heart, but it can also cause:
- Decreased sleep or energy
- Feelings of anxiety and depression
- Forgetfulness and impatience
The stress itself can be a problem as is the way you handle the stress. Both elements can impact your health. At the moment, things like smoking or eating comfort food can feel like temporary solutions for the problem at hand. These foods are typically high in sugar and low in nutritional value. In the long run, unhealthy coping methods don’t help your health or your heart. That’s why it’s so important to find a way to manage and cope with everything life throws at you.
7 Ways Meditation is Magical For Heart Health
1. Reduce Stress
For people with cardiovascular disease, meditation provides a pathway to reduce their stress and focus on things they can do to be healthier. Meditation is a way to bring balance to your life.
In a five-year study of 201 patients with coronary heart disease, researchers investigated the effects of transcendental meditation and heart health. Transcendental meditation is a technique where you sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, repeating a mantra silently in your head for 15 minutes a day. Researchers found that daily meditation results in a 48% decrease in the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death.
People who meditate regularly tend to experience less stress and feel more balanced in general. Meditation and mindfulness may also improve cognition, reduce negative feelings, and manage chronic pain.
2. Ease Feelings of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders can result in a rapid heart rate, chest pain, and palpitations. It can also put you at a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Research suggests that meditation can be beneficial for those with a generalized anxiety disorder.
One study investigated the effects of an eight-week meditation program and anxiety. Researchers found that participants experienced less anxiety and a greater increase in positive self-statements after completing the program.
3. Lower Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
Recent studies have offered promising results regarding the impact of meditation in reducing blood pressure. Meditation looks to be a very promising tool in lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Prolonged high blood pressure, or hypertension, can result in serious complications. If left unchecked, it can damage your arteries, your heart, and your brain.
Evidence suggests that meditation can affect heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of heart health, a high HRV is the sign of a healthy heart. One study found that low HRV is linked with a 32% to 45% increase of heart attack in people who already have cardiovascular disease. It’s thought that with regular meditation, you may be able to raise your HRV, boosting your heart health.
4. Decrease Inflammation
Inflammation plays a key role in several health conditions including heart disease and stroke. Meditation may help to reduce inflammation, therefore, preventing numerous diseases.
Research suggests that mindfulness meditation may reduce key inflammation markers. By decreasing inflammation, it will help to reduce the risk of heart disease and support overall health.
5. Improve Sleep
Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. When you don’t sleep enough consistently, you are at a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Getting enough sleep isn’t just important for your energy levels but for your health in general.
Research shows that sleep duration can influence a person’s risk of having a heart attack. Regardless of age, genetics, diet, or any other factors, sleep duration can have a significant impact on a person’s risk of a heart attack. In a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that those who slept less than six hours per night had a 20% higher risk of a first heart attack.
6. Reduce Harmful Hormones
The positive effect of meditation stems from the deep relaxation the body and mind go into. Meditation has been found to lower blood pressure while reducing harmful hormones. By consistently practicing meditation, you can decrease stress hormones, helping to alleviate stress and benefit the heart.
When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol. This hormone produces many of the negative effects associated with stress like increasing inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines. Meditation can help to reduce harmful hormones, in turn, reducing the effects of stress.
7. Lower Cholesterol
If there’s too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up in the walls of the arteries and prevent blood from reaching your heart, brain, and other organs. High levels of bad cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol has a number of vital functions but the problem arises when there’s too much of it.
Research suggests that meditation, specifically yoga meditation, can lower cholesterol. By lowering cholesterol, meditation may reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
How to Incorporate Meditation Into Your Daily Routine
Meditation supports your heart in a number of different ways. From changing how you deal with stress to physically impacting your body. There are countless types of meditation, so it’s important to find an approach that you feel comfortable with.
Try local yoga classes with gentle movements. Whether you want to learn to slow down, breathe deeply, or just strengthen your mind-body connection, yoga can be a heart-strengthening exercise. Yoga can lower stress, improve your sleep, and increase flexibility. Meditation can be a part of yoga, it helps to bring your mind into focus and lower feelings of stress and anxiety.
Yoga breathing exercises such as belly breath and conscious breathing can be very beneficial too. Breathing exercise alone can help to lower stress levels, bring more mental clarity, and increase energy levels.
Workshops, Online and Apps
Check out a meditation workshop, pick up a few books about mindfulness, or download a meditation online (there are tons of free apps and videos online like Headspace and Calm). I also recommend asking a family member or friend to do it with you, so you can share the learning experience with someone.
Not all meditation is done sitting down with your legs crossed as many people believe. In addition to yoga, there’s tai chi, also called “moving meditation,” which incorporates gentle movements that require deep concentration and balance. Tai chi is a martial art that’s known for its self-defense techniques and health benefits.
Research suggests that tai chi may improve balance, cognitive function, and pain management. Many people use tai chi as a way to alleviate stress and anxiety all over the world. This form of meditation promotes serenity and inner peace.
When it comes to meditation, it’s not about sitting silently for hours at a time. It’s about growing a sustainable and regular meditation practice. Start by putting aside a few minutes of your day and take the time to breathe deeply and clear the mind chatter. Begin by getting comfortable and set your own time and pace. Start small and just be kind to yourself.
While meditation can offer a technique for lowering stress and your risk for heart disease, it’s not a replacement for other important lifestyle changes like eating a clean diet, lowering your sodium and sugar intake, or getting daily physical exercise. It can form a part of a healthy lifestyle and support your heart health.
Your heart is an important part of you. Meditation can keep your physical heart healthy, but it can also keep your metaphorical heart of emotions healthy. Meditate your heart back to health!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 6, 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
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