NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Teenagers on the brink of having high blood pressure may gain some control over the problem by practicing transcendental meditation, new research suggests.
The study, which involved African-American teens with “high-normal” blood pressure, found that those who were taught the relaxation technique saw their blood pressure decline over four months.
Teenagers with high-normal blood pressure face higher odds of developing full-blown hypertension down the road, and African Americans are at particular risk of high blood pressure and its complications, including heart disease and stroke.
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Achieving even a modest dip in blood pressure in adolescence could cut the risk of serious disease in adulthood, Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, the new study’s lead author, noted in an interview.
Transcendental meditation (TM) is a technique for calming the body and mind. Unlike some other forms of meditation, it does not require concentration on something in particular; instead, practitioners sit quietly, eyes closed, for about 15 minutes, allowing the mind and body to naturally settle.
“TM technique is effortless,” Barnes said, noting that this allows even teenagers to master the practice and perform it at home as well as at school.
A number of studies have pointed to potential health benefits of TM, lowered blood pressure in adults being one. It’s thought that over time, regular practice changes the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and stress hormones. Barnes described the mechanism as being “more holistic” than that of blood-pressure medication, arising from the “deep, whole-body relaxation” that TM can achieve.
To see whether teenagers’ blood pressure may benefit from the practice, Barnes and his colleagues at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta had 156 high school students spend four months either practicing TM or taking a health education class.
After learning the technique, the TM group practiced meditation for 15 minutes twice a day, everyday. On weekdays, one of those sessions took place at school. Several times during the study, the students wore small ambulatory blood pressure monitors, which measure a person’s blood pressure changes over the course of 24 hours
Over four months, the blood pressure of the teens in the TM group saw fell by an average of three to four points, while blood pressure in the other group stayed essentially the same.
The findings are published in the April issue of the American Journal of Hypertension.
Even the modest blood-pressure drop seen in this study can be enough to move kids from the high-normal to the normal category, Barnes said.
TM could also have other positive effects on kids, according to the researcher. He noted that students who meditated “felt fresh” after each session, and many reported benefits such as better concentration, less anger and improved relationships with others.
“This is really the essence of mind-body medicine,” Barnes said.
SOURCE: American Journal of Hypertension, April 2004.
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