According to polls, the most popular New Year's resolutions for 2011 are: lose weight, quit drinking and/or smoking, exercise, manage your debt, reduce stress, get a better job, fall in love and volunteer to help others.
But if Dr. Mehmet Oz is correct, perhaps "learn to meditate" should be added to the top of everyone's list.
Meditation is emerging as a powerful stress-buster. Research shows that it can have health benefits equivalent to or better than some of the leading medications for reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Dr. Oz, a meditator himself, spoke at the "Change Begins Within" benefit on Dec. 13 in New York City. The event was sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation, to raise funds to teach 10,000 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder how to meditate. Addressing the impact of stress and its toll on the human heart, Dr. Oz explained how the Transcendental Meditation technique reduces the three main risk factors for heart disease.
"As a heart surgeon, I see the effects of stress on the heart as the leading cause of death in the Western world. This meditation, we believe, can help a lot of people. It's important to understand exactly how TM reduces stress and stress-related disorders."
Stating that high cholesterol is the first major risk factor for heart disease, Dr. Oz cited a one-year study on people with high cholesterol who practiced the TM technique. The study found that cholesterol was reduced by 10 percent, or 30 milliliters. "Now, if you are on medication for cholesterol, we hope you can get 30 milliliters lower," he said.
The second risk factor for heart disease, cautioned Dr. Oz, is high insulin or diabetes. "A randomized clinical trial funded by the NIH found improvements in insulin resistance, glucose and even insulin levels themselves, after just four months of TM practice, in over 100 people who had coronary blocks. This dramatic change was significantly better than just teaching people about their health."
Meditation also helps reduce hypertension -- the third main risk factor -- according to a randomized control study on people suffering from high blood pressure. "Those practicing the TM technique had a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, of 11 and 6, respectively. Those are big numbers. We don't get these kind of results all the time with medications."
The outcome of a long-term randomized trial on older African American patients with coronary heart disease showed similar promise. Those practicing the TM technique during this 10-year period were found to have 47 percent less incidence of mortality, heart disease and stroke. "This impact in the TM group is stunning -- unimaginable. When you talk about these causes of death and you can reduce them by that much, as well as non-fatal strokes and non-fatal heart attacks, these are spectacularly large impacts."
Research on meditation has come a long way in recent decades, with hundreds of peer-reviewed studies being published on a variety of meditation practices. There have been about 50 randomized controlled trials on the TM technique alone, and the NIH has granted over $25 million for scientists to further research the practice.
Regarding his own personal practice of the TM technique, Dr. Oz has said, "When I meditate, I go to that place where truth lives. I can see what reality really is, and it is so much easier to form good relationships then."
As everyone knows, following through on News Year's resolutions isn't always easy. If we're under stress, it's even harder -- we're more likely to overeat and find ourselves less motivated to exercise and more susceptible to smoking, drinking and other addictive behaviors. Meditation adds a powerful engine to your New Year's resolutions. What's more, it's easy!
WATCH: Dr. Mehmet Oz on the health benefits of meditation:
1. Journal of Human Stress 5(4): 24-27, 1979. Cooper M. J., et al. Transcendental Meditation in the management of hypercholesterolemia; Harefuah, Journal of the Israel Medical Association 95(1): 1-2, 1978. Cooper M. J. and Aygen M. M. Effect of Transcendental Meditation on serum cholesterol and blood pressure.
2. Archives of Internal Medicine 2006; 166:1218-1224. Maura Paul-Labrador, MPH; Donna Polk, MD, MPH; James H. Dwyer, PhD†; Ivan Velasquez, MD; Sanford Nidich, PhD; Maxwell Rainforth, PhD; Robert Schneider, MD; C. Noel Bairey Merz, M. D. Effects of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation on Components of the Metabolic Syndrome in Subjects With Coronary Heart Disease.
3. American Journal of Hypertension 21 (3): 310-6, 2008. Anderson J.W., et al. Blood pressure response to Transcendental Meditation: a meta-analysis.
4. American Journal of Cardiology 95:1060-1064, 2005. Schneider R.H., et al. Long-term effects of stress reduction on mortality in persons ≥ 55 years of age with systemic hypertension.