Transcendental meditation may aid heart failure

NEW YORK, Reuters Health

People with heart failure may be able to improve their mental and physical health with the help of transcendental meditation, preliminary research suggests.

In a study of 23 African Americans with mild to moderate heart failure, researchers found that those who learned the transcendental meditation (TM) technique made gains in their ability to exercise, as well as improvements in their quality of life and depression symptoms.

The findings are published in the medical journal Ethnicity & Disease.

The TM technique is a form of meditation in which practitioners sit comfortably, with their eyes closed, and silently repeat a mantra — a sound, word or phrase — to calm the mind and body. Some researchers believe that meditation affects the nervous system in a way that can alter a range of bodily functions, such as breathing, blood vessel dilation and stress-hormone regulation.

Some studies have found that TM may improve high blood pressure and certain other risk factors for heart disease. The new study, according to the authors, appears to be the first to look at TM and heart failure among African Americans, a group at particular risk of heart disease.

The results are “encouraging,” conclude the researchers, led by Dr. Ravishankar Jayadevappa of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The study included 23 black adults age 55 or older who’d recently been hospitalized for mild to moderate heart failure, a hronic condition in which the heart gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

This results in shortness of breath, fatigue and limits on physical activity. Treatment includes exercise and medications to ease the heart’s workload and slow the progression of the disease.

Patients in the current study were randomly assigned either to practice TM or to attend health education classes in addition to their standard heart failure treatment. Those in the group assigned to TM first learned its techniques, and then were instructed to practice it every day on their own.

After 6 months, the meditation group improved their average performance on the 6-minute walk test, a standard way of gauging exercise capacity. TM practitioners also showed greater improvements on standard measures of quality of life and depression symptoms compared with the health-education group.

Larger and longer studies are now needed to replicate the findings, and to see whether TM offers heart failure patients long-term benefits, the researchers conclude.