Among the factors that contribute to heart disease are vascular damage, high blood pressure, insufficient sleep, stress, and diabetes. However, the effects of these factors can be minimized, reversed, or even prevented with meditation. Generally, meditation involves fixing the mind on a single object, such as a calming word or serene image. According to the American Heart Association, engaging in meditation can mitigate some of the risk factors associated with heart disease. Here are the merits of meditation for heart health.
Boosts Arterial Health
A diet high in saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, leading to fat deposits on arterial walls. Over time, fat hardens into plaques, thickening and hardening arteries. Plaque buildup hinders blood flow to the heart, leading to atherosclerosis. Evidence of vascular constriction is chest pain, or angina. A heart attack results when plaque completely blocks an artery.
A 2000 study published in the journal Stroke showed meditation reduces arterial plaque. For this study, scientists chose 138 adults diagnosed with hypertension. For each participant, carotid artery plaque was measured via ultrasound, and then half the participants learned to practice meditation. After seven months of regular practice, plaque thickness was significantly less in the meditating subjects, who also experienced an 11 percent drop in their heart attack risk.
Engaging in meditation is just one of the many ways aging adults can boost their health and wellbeing. Seniors who want to remain healthy as they age can benefit in a variety of ways when they receive professional elder care. Home Care Assistance is here to help your loved one accomplish daily tasks, prevent illness, and focus on living a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Lowers Blood Pressure
A 2015 study in PLOS One reported meditation releases an enzyme called telomerase, which lowers blood pressure levels. Here’s how this protein works. A person’s inherited traits are governed by genes, which are units of coded information. Genes exist on chromosomes, spiral strands that form “X” shapes. At the ends of chromosomes are caps called telomeres, which prevent genes from being lost when cells divide. Each time a cell replicates, telomeres shorten. When those lengths are compromised, cells can’t reproduce. However, telomerase elongates chromosomes, protecting the genes that make the enzyme.
For this study, hypertensive African Americans were chosen, since this ethnic group has a high risk of heart disease. Half of the 48 subjects practiced meditation. After four months, the meditating group showed increases in telomerase and corresponding reductions in blood pressure.
Chronic insomnia makes the cardiovascular system work harder, which inflames heart tissue and raises blood pressure. Sleep deprivation also hampers glucose metabolism, increasing the risk of diabetes. However, meditation boosts melatonin, the hormone that signals the body that it’s time to sleep. The practice normalizes functioning of the pineal gland, the brain region that produces melatonin.
Regular meditation can allay worries that keep people awake at night. Moreover, the restful brain waves elicited by meditation resemble those experienced during sound sleep. A 2015 study evaluated the effect of mindful meditation on slumber. The 49 subjects included a mix of middle-aged people and seniors with insomnia. Half learned how to witness their thoughts and feelings with detachment. The remaining participants took a sleep improvement class. At the end of six sessions, those who meditated reported less insomnia, depression, and fatigue. The study was featured in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Anxiety prompts the adrenals to produce cortisol, a stress hormone. Increased stress levels raise blood pressure and cholesterol. Tension also releases adrenaline and norepinephrine, hormones that speed pulse, breathing, blood flow, and heart contractions. Meditation counteracts the effects of stress by curbing cortisol output and slowing breathing and heart rates.
In 2013, a brain study identified the regions stimulated by meditation when fear arises. Using MRIs, scientists recorded brain activity before meditation training. After they practiced meditation, anxiety was induced in the study participants. In each subject, meditation impacted three brain regions that ease worry. The study was published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
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Cortisol and adrenaline interfere with insulin, the hormone required for glucose metabolism. Spiking blood sugar thickens arterial linings, making them prone to atherosclerosis. Additionally, diabetes injures the nerves that govern cardiovascular function. By lowering stress hormones, meditation regulates blood sugar. Regular sessions cultivate self-awareness and discipline. As a result, diabetic individuals may be inspired to make healthy lifestyle choices.
In 2014, diabetic veterans participated in a meditation study conducted by the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. After meditating for three months, the veterans had significantly healthier A1C test results, indicating better diabetes management. Study participants practiced mindfulness meditation, after which they reported less stress and greater self-control.
To reap the fruits of meditation, your loved one should practice for at least 10 minutes daily. Here are four styles of meditation especially suited to seniors:
- Guided – listening to an instructor describe relaxing scenes and visualizing sensory responses
- Mindfulness – focusing on the present moment, observing thoughts and feelings without engaging them
- Breath awareness – concentrating on the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling
- Transcendental – receiving a customized word or mantra from a meditation teacher and silently repeating it for 20 minutes twice daily
Your loved one can learn meditation by watching YouTube videos or attending classes, possibly at a local library, community center, or college. Some yoga studios offer meditation instruction.
To help your loved one develop the habit of meditating, encourage him or her to designate a certain time each day. Choose a spot in the home that’s quiet and free from distractions. To practice meditation, your loved one should wear comfortable clothing. Here are a few basic meditation instructions:
- Close the eyes and begin focusing on the natural flow of the breath
- With each inhale and exhale, silently repeat a calming word, such as “peace”
- When the mind wanders from the word, gently bring it back
- Continue to pair the word with the breath for 10 minutes
- Gradually increase to 20 minutes, preferably twice daily
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