In the wake of controversial new research on adolescents and obesity, a group of researchers from Georgia Health Sciences University is shifting the focus from weight to another critical issue among black teens -- heart health.
The research diverges from the typical conversation on the role of diet and exercise in curbing high rates of heart disease among African Americans early on, and focuses instead on the role of meditation.
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, according to a news release.
For the study, which was published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, half of the teens were trained in transcendental meditation and asked to meditate for 15 minutes with a class and 15 minutes at home 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 meditation.
Researchers also measured the mass of the heart muscle's left ventricle before and after the study, a test that signals how hard the heart is working to pump blood through the body. "Increased mass of the heart muscle's left ventricle is caused by the extra workload on the heart with higher blood pressure," explained Dr. Vernon Barnes, a physiologist in the Medical College of Georgia and the Georgia Health Sciences University Institute of Public and Preventive Health, and author of the study.
Among the group that meditated, Barnes and his team found that left ventricular mass was significantly decreased.
Describing his experience with transcendental meditation, Dr. Mehmet Oz told the New York Times:
“It’s like, imagine the ripples on top of an ocean...And I’m in a rowboat, reactively dealing with the waves and water coming into my boat. What I need to do is dive into the deeper solace, the calmness beneath the surface.”
Barnes likens it to a period of deep rest, explaining that "As a result, the vasculature relaxes, blood pressure drops and the heart works less."
Earlier this year, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School uncovered a similar link between yoga and anxiety among teens, while Barnes' team reported behavioral improvements in the teens who meditated in their study.
According to Barnes, one in 10 black youths suffer from high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease that he says can be curbed through the use of meditation techniques practiced over time.