Chronic emotional and mental stress is a big contributor to high blood pressure levels because stress causes a sustained increase in activity in the sympathetic nervous system—the part of your nervous system associated with the fight-or-flight response. Fortunately, you can manipulate sympathetic nervous activity by using these relaxation techniques that defuse emotional stress.
- Transcendental Meditation. This ancient practice has been the focus of more than 600 scientific studies, including nine randomized controlled trials involving people with high blood pressure. A University of Kentucky review of these studies found that compared to controls, transcendental meditation reduced blood pressure levels by a clinically significant average of 4.7 systolic points and 3.2 diastolic points after at least 8 weeks of practice. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health has also shown that transcendental meditation significantly reduces high blood pressure and helps to ward off cardiovascular problems among populations at high risk for hypertension and related cardiovascular disease, such as African Americans.
- Yoga. When practiced regularly and on a long-term basis, yoga can help lower blood pressure levels and also help avoid other heart risk factors. Studies of hypertensive adults with and without coronary disease have shown that yoga-based interventions can reduce the need for medication. Yoga also does not require an enormous time commitment: Just 30 minutes of yoga daily have been shown to decrease blood pressure levels.
- T'ai chi. Originally a noncompetitive form of self-defense, T’ai chi has been referred to as “meditation in motion.” It consists of a series of postures and movements that are performed slowly and gracefully, along with breathing techniques that induce a state of relaxation and tranquility. If done regularly, T'ai chi can reduce stress as well as improve flexibility, strength, and energy. In one study of 76 healthy people who had high to normal blood pressure levels, T'ai chi was shown to decrease blood pressure and anxiety after the participants had practiced it for 50 minutes, three times a week for 12 weeks.
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