Stress reduction strategies based on mindfulness -- the practice of focusing on the present moment -- could help lower blood pressure among people who are on the brink of hypertension, according to a small new study.
Researchers from Kent State University found that people with prehypertension -- meaning they have borderline high blood pressure that does not yet necessitate medication -- have decreases in their blood pressure measurements if they undergo weekly sessions to learn mindfulness-based stress reduction practices.
The findings, which are published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, are based on data from 56 men and women with prehypertension who had an average age of 50. Researchers had these participants either undergo eight weeks of sessions of mindfulness training, or just receive lifestyle advice and learn a muscle-relaxation activity.
By the end of the eight weeks, people who learned the mindfulness strategies had a greater drop in blood pressure levels than those in the lifestyle advice group. Specifically, the mindfulness group experienced a decrease in systolic blood pressure (the higher number on a blood pressure reading) of 5 millimeters of mercury, versus 1 millimeter of mercury in the lifestyle advice group. And the mindfulness group experienced a decrease in diastolic blood pressure (the lower number on a blood pressure reading) of nearly 2 millimeters of mercury, versus an increase of 1 millimeter of mercury for the lifestyle advice group.
Mindfulness might benefit other areas of health, too. Research has shown that the strategies could decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lessen pain for people with certain chronic conditions, lower risk of depression and even improve sleep.