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Meditation – healing more than just minds?

Meditation and other relaxation-based interventions may improve outcomes in patients with long-term conditions (LTCs) such as diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease, by targeting “negative cognitions” such as worry and thought suppression, according to a UK study published recently in Behavioral Medicine.1

The study used a sequential mixed methods approach that measured change in worry and thought suppression, and qualitatively explored acceptability, feasibility, and user experience with a focus group and in-depth interviews.

Mindfulness, as defined by the study, is a “heightened sense of present centered self-awareness that fosters non-judgmental observations of emotions, bodily states, and other sensations in the attentional field, leading to mental well being.”

At the end of the six-week course, meditation and mindfulness skills led to improved sleep, greater relaxation, and more-accepting approaches to illness and illness experience, according to the study. Long term effects were not studied. Overall, however, the data suggest that meditation and mindfulness may have been particularly useful during the early phase of LTCs or immediately after an acute event, when participants perceived that anxiety and worry were more potent health threats, say the authors. There is scope to investigate optimal timing of meditation and mindfulness training for people with LTCs, they conclude.

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Dr Peter Coventry (University of Manchester)

On the importance of mindfulness in improving the health of people with LTCs, lead author Dr Peter Coventry (University of Manchester) has said, “mindfulness based interventions appear to be an acceptable and effective way for some people with LTCs to regain a sense of balance and self-determination in their lives by allowing them to accept their limitations and focus on what is achievable in the present rather than worrying about the past or what they might not be able to do in the future. In this sense it is a means to help people self-manage their illness and it has the potential to offer people long term benefits if practiced regularly and built into their daily routines.”

Speaking to BJC Arrhythmia Watch, Dr Coventry said: “The intervention was delivered over 6 weeks and sessions typically lasted between 2 and 3 hours. The assessments (to measure impact on negative thoughts and worry) were conducted using self-rated questionnaires so they are fairly quick although it varies from person to person.”

“We ran the mindfulness sessions to fit in with the lifestyle of the participants who were volunteers from self-help groups for people with diabetes or heart disease. Classes were held in the morning and afternoon. In this sense the study tested the acceptability and feasibility of the mindfulness intervention among a retired and fairly flexible group of volunteers. In time, such interventions might be delivered in more routinely available settings, for example, community and primary care services could sign post patients to local providers of mindfulness sessions,” Dr Coventry added.

He added: “Additionally, there is scope to integrate group-based mindfulness interventions like the one we tested into cardiac rehabilitation programmes and to do this the intervention could be tailored to meet the needs of patients entering cardiac rehabilitation. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) currently recommend mindfulness based cognitive therapy for patients with depressive relapse and there are incentives for mental health providers to offer mindfulness interventions for this group.”

The study was funded by the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) Greater Manchester, part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). CLAHRC Greater Manchester aims to improve the health of people in Greater Manchester and beyond through carrying out research and putting it into practice. For more information, please visit


1. Keyworth C, Knopp J, Roughley K, Dickens C, Bold S, Coventry P. A mixed-methods pilot study of the acceptability and effectiveness of a brief meditation and mindfulness intervention for people with diabetes and coronary heart disease. Behavioral Medicine 2014;40:53–64.

Published on: June 26, 2014

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