PROVIDENCE, R. I. — High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major contributor to the nearly 18 million lives lost each year to heart disease. While certain lifestyle changes like a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and weight loss have been proven to help lower blood pressure, maintaining those changes is often easier said than done. That’s why researchers from Brown University say mindfulness training, the technique of clearing one’s mind and focusing on the present moment, can be beneficial for blood pressure patients by improving attention control, emotion regulation, and self-awareness of daily habits.
“We know enough about hypertension that we can theoretically control it in everybody — yet in about half of all people diagnosed, it is still out of control,” says lead author Eric Loucks, an associate professor of epidemiology, behavioral and social sciences, and medicine, in a release. “Mindfulness may represent another approach to helping these people bring their blood pressure down, by allowing them to understand what’s happening in their minds and bodies.”
Loucks and his team developed a custom nine-week Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP) program for 43 people dealing with high blood pressure. After the end of the program, the research team followed up with each participant one year later. The program was intended to help the participants pay better attention to their daily thoughts, actions, emotions, and habits, with the idea being they would be better equipped to cut down on blood pressure risk factors. All in all, the study’s authors say their results indicate the program was a success.
After the mindfulness training, participants showed significantly improved self-regulation tendencies, and as a consequence, significantly lower blood pressure readings. Study subjects who had previously been struggling to control their alcohol and salt consumption, and maintain a regular exercise schedule, showed improvements in those areas as well. Even a full year later, the benefits of the program were still apparent, especially for participants who were originally dealing with stage 2 uncontrolled hypertension (blood pressure equal to or greater than 140 mmHg). Among that group, subjects saw a mean 15.1-mmHg drop in blood pressure.
It’s important to note, however, that this type of training is intended to be combined with other blood pressure control methods, such as prescribed anti-hypertensive medications, and more traditional education intended to inform patients on what lifestyle changes they must make.
“Future trials could involve a dismantling study, where we would take out some of the health education, for example, and see if mindfulness training still had significant effects,” Loucks explains. “That’s certainly something we’re looking at doing in the long term. But mindfulness training is usually designed to be integrated with standard medical care.”
A followup study involving over 200 people is already happening right now. Additionally, the research team believe their MB-BP training program can also work as an effective preventative tool against high blood pressure before it even presents itself.
“I hope that these projects will lead to a paradigm shift in terms of the treatment options for people with high blood pressure,” Loucks concludes.
The study is published in the scientific journal PLOS One.