It turns out that what’s good for the mind is also good for the heart.
Research shows people who regularly practice forms of quieting and focusing the mind—mindfulness, meditation or prayer--tend to have a lower risk of getting heart disease.
“We have more evidence now showing that meditation—quieting the mind and being focused on one activity—reduces stress and anxiety, which in turn can lead to a lower risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Sayra Khandekar, Facility Chief of Cardiac Sciences (interim), Director of the Echocardiography Lab at the Misericordia Community Hospital and an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta.
The American Heart Association (AHA) also took the position that meditation is good for the heart. This after conducting a comprehensive review of studies in 2017 which showed significant benefits of meditation not only in promoting a healthy heart but also in shaping a positive outlook in life.
People need to recognize that stress is one of the major contributing factors leading to cardiovascular disease, says Sayra. “The good news is that you can do something about it and one of the ways to deal with it is through regular meditation.”
Harvard Medical School notes in an article that meditation can take on several forms ranging from mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, prayer, and many others. Even engaging in a focused repetitive movement such as biking, walking, and swimming can also be considered a form of meditation.
As a cardiologist, Sayra regularly counsels patients take action to manage their response to stress—whether financial, marital, or work-related. “We cannot eliminate stress from our lives, but we can change how we react to stressful situations,” she adds.
Sayra makes it clear that meditation is not going to replace recommended medical therapy. However, she says that, “if I can put it on a prescription pad, I would do it. I pretty much talk about it every visit and I ask patients about the things that they are doing for stress management.”
She often refers her patients to one of the cardiac rehab sites in Edmonton (Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, Grey Nuns Community Hospital or the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute) with satellite programs around the province, which provide a range of services for patients with heart disease, including programming designed to help alleviate stress and anxiety.
“You’ve got to give your mind adequate space to deal with things,” Sayra says. “And mindfulness does not only mean formal meditation or breathing in and out.” Prayer, she says, can also be a form of meditation, which is what she does on a daily basis. And patients do heed her advice and make a conscious effort to do something about managing stress, she adds.
Taking care of yourself is vital, says Sue Goulet, Clinical Health Educator at the Misericordia Hospital.
Sue emphasizes that it is important to try to achieve work-life balance. “Allow yourself to step back and say to yourself that ‘No I can take my time to exercise because it is going to help me,’ ” she says.
For Sayra, awareness is really key to helping people take more control of their health. And the first step is to remind people with a history of chronic stress and anxiety that they are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
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