MONDAY, May 2, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- People who practiced Transcendental Meditation lived longer than people who didn't, experiencing a 23 percent reduction in death rates.
Those are the results of a long-term study appearing in the May 2 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.
Previous studies had shown that Transcendental Meditation (TM) decreased stress and, as a result, also lowered blood pressure.
"What we knew before from the few hundred other studies was that TM changes physiological and psychological risk factors for chronic disease," said study author Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.
"We had some indicators of short-term changes in markers, but this is the first time in a rigorous way with a decent number of people that we were able to show that this mind-body technique actually prolongs life,," he added. "It reduces death from all causes and cardiovascular disease specifically. It's not just the risk factors, but the end results."
The center was established by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, specifically to study natural medicine in relation to cardiovascular disease in minority populations. Maharishi University was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who also is credited with introducing TM to the world.
For this study, the researchers looked at records on 202 men and women with mildly elevated blood pressure who had previously participated in studies that randomized volunteers to Transcendental Meditation, to a behavioral technique program (such as mindfulness) or to health education. The participants had been followed for more than 18 years. Schneider and his colleagues updated some of their data through death records.
"We found new information on old people," Schneider said. "It was more feasible to look at subjects who had begun TM practice a number of years ago. We went back and looked at their records and sent 202 names to the National Death Index, and they were able to look up mortality rates and causes of death."
In addition to the 23 percent reduction in overall death, people who practiced TM showed a 30 percent reduction in the rate of death from cardiovascular disease and a 49 percent reduction in the rate of death from cancer, the study found.
"TM produces changes in the nervous system and in brain-wave activity. When you look at the rest of the body there's lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones, changes in behavioral risk factors like smoking and drug abuse and improvements in psychological health," Schneider explained. "These are all more short-term changes over a few months, which appear to add up and affect the bottom line long-term."
Schneider described TM as a "simple, natural technique practiced for 20 minutes twice a day" which results in a state of "restful alertness."
"It's the experience of this state of restful alertness in a regular, systematic, repeatable way which makes TM distinctive among meditation techniques that have been studied," he added.
It's not clear if other meditation techniques would have the same effect.
And some experts felt there were problems with the research.
For one thing, the authors provided only the relative event rates, not the absolute rates, said Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
"It tells you there's an effect, but the impact is unclear," he explained.
"I'm not sure there's anything new," added Dr. Richard Milani, section head of preventive cardiology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans. "We know that Transcendental Meditation lowers blood pressure and we know that in old people, when we lower blood pressure, we see cardiovascular death benefits."
Although the study involved only a small number of people, the authors feel the findings do suggest that TM may be associated with decreases in mortality in older people with elevated blood pressure.
Visit Maharishi University of Management for more on Transcendental Meditation.