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Seniors: Less Stress May Lower Blood Pressure and Meds

By Jane Hart, MD

Healthnotes Newswire (May 22, 2008)—Learning to relax can improve blood pressure and may reduce the need for medication in some seniors, according to a new study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

In this eight-week study, senior people were randomly assigned to a stress management group or a lifestyle modification group (control group). The stress management group attended a weekly one-hour session where they learned to relax through deep breathing and meditation. They were also asked to listen to a 20-minute relaxation tape every day. In their weekly sessions, the control group learned about the stress response and its impact on health as well as nutrition, exercise, and weight loss. They were asked to listen to educational tapes about lifestyle behavior modification for 20 minutes a day.

Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure (the top number of the reading) of greater than 140 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of greater than 90 mm Hg. After following the treatment program, systolic blood pressure decreased in both groups : 9.4 mm Hg for the stress management group and 8.8 mm Hg for the lifestyle modification group. In addition, 14 people in the stress management group and 5 people in the control group were able to keep their systolic blood pressure below 140 mm Hg over an eight-week period after the initial study while one or more of their high blood pressure medications was reduced or eliminated.

A common issue for older adults, high blood pressure can be hard to treat. In fact, its prevalence among the elderly (age 65 and over) increased from 44% in 1995 to 55% in 2003. And 65% to 75% of elderly hypertensive patients have isolated systolic hypertension, an important risk factor for heart disease.
“This result has clinical implications since reduction in systolic blood pressure of 5 mm Hg reduces mortality by 7% and risk of stroke by 30%,” said Jeffery Dusek, PhD and his colleagues from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
This study has shown that stress management techniques and lifestyle behavior changes are both effective in lowering blood pressure. Combining these two approaches may improve a person’s chances of reducing blood pressure and lowering heart disease risk.

Stress reduction tips

  • Learn how to relax through specific techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, or guided imagery.
  • Practice intentional relaxation every day. Try listening to relaxation tapes for 20 minutes a day, as the study’s participants did.
  • Learn what triggers your stress and how to handle those triggers in a healthy and calm manner, avoiding reactivity that can increase your stress. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, like you might feel in a traffic jam, take three deep breaths before you react. Stress is natural and unavoidable, but keeping it in check can benefit your health. (J Altern Complement Med 2008;14:129–38)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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