Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Per the American Heart Association, practicing meditation and mindfulness may reduce death, heart attack, and stroke in heart patients. Meditation is a practice — often using deep breathing, quiet contemplation, or sustained focus on something benign, such as a color, phrase, or sound — that helps you let go of stress and feel peaceful and maintain a relaxed state of mind. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Recently interviewed by Jeena Cho, a Forbes contributor, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Joon Sup Lee, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, Division Chief of Cardiology, and Co-Director Heart and Vascular Institute at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, explained the benefits of these practices when included in a heart patient’s treatment plan.
“The link between chronic stress and progression of coronary artery disease is now well accepted by a large majority of cardiologists. Although elimination of stress is impossible as long as we are alive, a reduction of stress and more adaptive response to stress should be an important part of any cardiovascular health regimen,” said Dr. Lee.
It is not the stress in life, but the reaction to stress that is so potentially harmful to our health. Meditation and mindfulness can reverse the physiological manifestations of stress.
“There are well documented studies that show meditation reverses the physiologic manifestations of stress such as elevated blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, there is now more gathering evidence that stress can have harmful effects on the functioning of our immune system. An abnormally activated immune system may actually trigger heart attacks and worsen coronary artery disease,” continued Dr. Lee.
Illustration: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.