There’s always something that can be done for better heart health: eating a more balanced diet, penciling in regular workouts, scheduling a doctor’s appointment…the list goes on. In the midst of this to-do list, there’s one way to manage your heart health that actually involves doing nothing at all. Taking a few minutes each day to relax could help lower your risks of cardiovascular disease.
“I encourage my patients to use meditation as a way to relax and manage their stress,” says Robert Bulgarelli, DO, cardiologist with the Lankenau Heart Institute at Riddle Hospital. “Besides relieving stress, it also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels and can improve your sleep. For patients with diabetes, regular meditation can also help control blood sugar. All of those play an important role in maintaining good heart health, and it doesn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes out of your day.”
Recent studies have echoed the positive impact meditation can have on heart health. A 2012 study from the American Heart Association showed African-Americans with heart disease who meditated regularly were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who attended a health education class, instead.
For some patients, the idea of sitting down with your legs crossed for a few minutes every day can seem, well, boring. Fortunately, there are a variety of meditation styles available.
Transcendental meditation is the most traditional type and involves the use of a mantra, the repetition of a word, phrase, sound, or chant to help focus the mind. The goal of transcendental meditation is to allow the conscious mind to interact and explore the unconscious.
Mindfulness is another form of meditation that encourages exploring the unconscious, but uses breathing as the focus of your attention rather than a mantra. Other ways to relax and calm the mind include prayer and movement practices like tai chi or yoga.
“You have to find what works for you. Maybe it’s just going for a walk, or sitting quietly by yourself and enjoying the environment you’re in. That will vary for every patient, but as long as you’re able to let go of stress and find peace in whatever activity you’re doing, you’ll be doing your health a favor,” explains Dr. Bulgarelli.