In the midst of growing concerns about teens and obesity, a group of researchers from Georgia Health Sciences University have been focusing on a related issue of importance — teen hypertension. Their research diverged from the typical focus on the role of diet and exercise in curbing high rates of heart disease which is especially prevalent among African American teens, and focused instead on the potential of the Transcendental Meditation technique.
Their recent study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the regular practice of the TM technique decreased the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in teens. In a study of 62 black teens with high blood pressure, those who meditated twice a day for 15 minutes had lower left ventricular mass, an indicator of future cardiovascular disease, than a control group, said Dr. Vernon Barnes, a physiologist in the Medical College of Georgia and the Georgia Health Sciences University Institute of Public and Preventive Health.
Half of the group was trained in the TM technique and asked to meditate for 15 minutes twice a day for a four-month period. The other half was exposed to health education on how to lower blood pressure and risk for cardiovascular disease, but no TM practice. Left ventricular mass was measured with two-dimensional echocardiograms before and after the study and the group that meditated showed a significant decrease.
“Increased mass of the heart muscle’s left ventricle is caused by the extra workload on the heart with higher blood pressure,” Barnes explained. “Some of these teens already had higher measures of left ventricular mass because of their elevated blood pressure, which they are likely to maintain into adulthood.”
During meditation, which Barnes likens to a period of deep rest, the activity of the sympathetic nervous system decreases and the body releases fewer-than-normal stress hormones. “As a result, the vasculature relaxes, blood pressure drops and the heart works less,” he said.
Researchers also noted that school records also showed behavioral improvements in those students practicing the TM technique.
“Transcendental Meditation results in a rest for the body that is often deeper than sleep,” Barnes said. “Statistics indicate that one in every 10 black youths have high blood pressure. If practiced over time, the meditation may reduce the risk of these teens developing cardiovascular disease, in addition to other added health benefits.”