Conducted by a team from Brown University in the United States, the study introduced a mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction program. This program equipped participants with essential skills such as meditation, yoga, self-awareness, attention control, and emotion regulation. What distinguishes the program is its unique emphasis on applying these acquired skills to behaviours recognised for lowering blood pressure. The outcomes, published in JAMA Network Open, show a substantial improvement in participants’ self-awareness and their adherence to a heart-healthy diet following the completion of the eight-week mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction program, in comparison to a control group.
Lead study author Eric B. Loucks, who is an Associate Professor of epidemiology, behavioural, and social sciences at Brown University, emphasises that “participants in the program exhibited substantial improvements in their commitment to a heart-healthy diet, a major contributor to blood pressure control, and also in their self-awareness, which seems to positively influence dietary choices.”
This study sheds light on the underlying mechanism through which a tailored mindfulness training program, specifically designed to enhance dietary choices, can impact blood pressure. Loucks says, “By enhancing our self-awareness regarding the effects of different foods on our well-being, the sensations within our bodies, and our thoughts and emotions related to healthy and unhealthy eating, we can significantly influence our dietary preferences.”
Incorporated into the program was a group introduction, eight weekly group sessions lasting 2.5 hours each, a day-long retreat, and recommended at-home practice for 45 minutes six days a week. Trained instructors who specialise in understanding and preventing cardiovascular diseases led the program. The classes took place in Providence, R.I., at Brown University and in a health centre in a lower-income urban neighbourhood.
The study involved 201 participants divided into two groups. One group, consisting of 101 people, participated in the 8-week mindfulness program, which included personalised guidance and information about high blood pressure risks, mindfulness training related to high blood pressure risks (including mindful eating), and support for changing behaviour. The control group, receiving “usual care,” got brochures on managing high blood pressure. Both groups received a device for monitoring blood pressure at home and training on how to use it, along with the option to see a primary care doctor.
The researchers paid attention to how healthy participants followed the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is a healthy eating plan with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy designed to promote heart health. However, many people need help to stick to this diet.
After six months, the mindfulness group improved their DASH diet score by 0.34 points. Simply put, participants improved their vegetable intake, moving closer to the recommended levels. In contrast, the control group had a -0.04-point change in their DASH diet score, indicating no significant improvement.
Additionally, the mindfulness group improved their ability to be aware of their body’s signals (interoceptive awareness) by 0.71 points compared to their score six months earlier. This improvement was 0.54 points higher than that of the control group.
The study results show that a modified mindfulness program focusing on diet and self-awareness can significantly benefit people with high blood pressure. This program equips participants with the tools to make dietary changes that support heart health, lowering their blood pressure and reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease.