Control Blood Pressure with Mindfulness

“A chronic state of arousal isn’t healthy. It causes hypertension, and it has been implicated in diabetes, asthma, and various gastrointestinal disorders. Part of the arousal response is to turn off the immune system, so you are breaking down instead of healing yourself.” ~ Erika Friedmann


High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is an insidious disease because there are no overt symptoms. The individual feels fine. But it can be deadly as more than 360,000 American deaths, roughly 1,000 deaths each day, had high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause. In addition, hypertension markedly increases the risk heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.  Hypertension is present in about 70% of first heart attacks, about 80% of first strokes, and about 70% of chronic heart failures. It is also a very common disorder with about 70 million American adults (29%) having high blood pressure and only about half (52%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control. Additionally, nearly a third of American adults have prehypertension, with blood pressure higher than normal, but not yet considered hypertension.


High blood pressure, because it doesn’t have any primary symptoms is usually only diagnosed by direct measurement of blood pressure usually by a health care professional. When hypertension is chronically present over three quarters of patients are treated with antihypertensive drugs. But these medications often have adverse side effects. So, patients feel lousy when taking the drugs, but fine when they’re not. So, compliance is a major issue with many patients not taking the drugs regularly or stopping entirely.


Obviously there is a need for alternative to drug treatments for hypertension. Stress is known to be a contributing factor to hypertension. It acts in part by increasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system, the activating component of the peripheral nervous system and by increasing the release of stress hormones. So controlling stress would appear to be a reasonable non-drug approach to reducing high blood pressure.


Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs were designed specifically to reduce stress. They include meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. Meditation (see, and yoga (see, and body scan (see  have  been shown to be successful in reducing both the psychological and physiological responses to stress. So, it would seem appropriate to use these techniques as alternatives to drug treatment for hypertension.


In today’s Research News article “Effect of Group Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction Program and Conscious Yoga on Lifestyle, Coping Strategies, and Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressures in Patients with Hypertension”

Nejati and colleagues compared hypertensive patients randomly assigned to receive an 8-week MBSR program or no treatment. They found significant positive improvements produced by MBSR treatment including improved lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, health responsibility, stress management, interpersonal support, and self-actualization), coping strategies (problem-focused and emotion-focused), and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic).


These results are impressive, but need to be tempered with the fact that the control condition was a no treatment condition. Without an active control many potentially confounding variables are present. But the results reinforce previous studies that make a compelling case that mindfulness practices such as MBSR are excellent alternatives to medication for the treatment of hypertension.


So, control blood pressure with mindfulness.


“Meditation can help us in many aspects of our lives, whether it be physically or mentally. It is a discipline that when practiced daily significantly decreases stress related diseases such as high blood pressure while increasing a deep relaxation response and the feel-good factor.” – Zenlama
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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