Dr. Anders Nesvold interviewed by Anne Grete Hersoug
A recent study showed that Acem Meditation may have a preventative effect against severe heart attacks. “The findings are very promising,” says cardiologist Anders Nesvold, who was in charge of the research team. The results are published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, an influential medical journal.
Years of work went into the study. Dr. Nesvold explains: “The hospital where I was working – Oslo University Hospital, Aker, Norway – had obtained advanced equipment to measure various functions associated with the heart. I was very excited, and used the opportunity to carry out a study on the heart’s function in healthy adults who practice Acem Meditation, which induces calmness and relaxation.”
Heart rate variability
One of the things Dr. Nesvold’s team wanted to investigate was heart rate variability. High variability of the heart rate is a sign of good health, and is primarily found in the young and healthy. This variation decreases with age, and is also lower in patients with coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and other unfavorable conditions.
“We wanted to find out whether Acem Meditation might have psychobiological effects that can prevent heart problems. We know that stress may cause death in those who are predisposed. Could we show that a non-directive stress-reduction technique like Acem Meditation is healthy for the heart?”
Rest versus meditation
Altogether, 27 meditators, middle-aged and elderly, of both genders, volunteered to participate. They represented a random group of adults with no diagnosed heart problems prior to the study.
First, the participants sat in chairs and rested for 20 minutes with closed eyes. Then they meditated for 20 minutes, all the time being monitored with medical technical equipment not usually associated with meditation and rest.
“I remember the excitement when we started: would the results be as favorable as we hoped? But we had to wait patiently for the results and the statistical analyses.”
When the results finally arrived, they were beyond our expectations:
“We were surprised that the results were so clearly significant in such a small group. Non-directive meditation clearly has a positive effect on heart-rate variability. When you meditate, you start autonomous processes in the body and mind. These processes are beyond voluntary control, and involve the brain, heart, and hormones. The findings support the idea that certain forms of meditation may induce active, rather than quiescent, cardiac dynamics. Non-directive meditation reduces the type of nerve activity that induces stress, but increases the type of nerve activity that is associated with rest and relaxation. This may contribute to a reduction of cardiovascular risk.”
Any plans for follow-up studies?
“It was great fun to do this exploratory study,” says Dr. Nesvold. “It would be desirable to perform a prospective study involving patients with established heart disease, e.g. to investigate whether systematic relaxation can be proven to be beneficial for those who have had a heart attack or undergone heart surgery.”
Nesvold A., Fagerland M.W., Davanger S., Ellingsen Ø., Solberg E. E., Holen A., Sevre K., & Atar D. (2011). Increased heart rate variability during nondirective meditation. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation.