The conclusion, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, comes from a comprehensive review of existing studies investigating the effects of meditation on risk factors for heart disease.
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, responsible for around 610,000 deaths in the country every year.
For individuals who have risk factors for heart disease, which may include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, combining lifestyle changes with medications may help. In recent years, studies have indicated that meditation may also benefit heart health.
For their review, Dr. Glenn N. Levine - chair of the writing group for the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Statement - and colleagues analyzed existing studies with the aim of determining whether or not meditation could help to reduce heart disease risk.
"Although studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, there hasn't been enough research to conclude it has a definite role," notes Dr. Levine.
The potential heart benefits of meditation
The team focused their attention on the effects of various sitting meditation practices, including mindful meditation, Samatha, Zen meditation, and transcendental meditation.
Previous studies that investigated combined mind-body practices - such as yoga and Tai Chi - were excluded from the review, as the authors say that the physical activity involved in such practices has already been shown to benefit heart disease risk.
Based on their review, Dr. Levine and colleagues conclude that meditation may help to lower stress levels and reduce anxiety and depression, and it may also improve quality of sleep and general well-being.
The results also indicated that meditation has the potential to reduce blood pressure; high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease.
However, the authors say that there is not enough evidence to confirm this benefit, or to determine the extent by which mediation may reduce blood pressure.
The review also indicated that meditation may help smokers to quit the habit, and it could also help to reduce the risk of heart attack, though the authors say that further studies are needed to confirm the latter.
Meditation 'not a substitute for medical care'
From the evidence to date, the Statement authors say that meditation might help to lower the risk of heart disease when combined with well-established heart-healthy interventions.
"Since education on how to meditate is widely available and meditation has little if any risk associated with it, interested people may want to use these techniques, in addition to established medical and lifestyle interventions, as a possible way to lower heart disease risk."
Dr. Glenn N. Levine
"However," he adds, "it's important that people understand that the benefits remain to be better established and that meditation is not a substitute for traditional medical care."
The researcher stresses that a healthful diet, regular exercise, cholesterol therapy, and other heart-heathy lifestyle and medical interventions remain the backbone of heart disease prevention.