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Study Says Meditation Alone Doesn’t Lower Blood Pressure

By Kathleen Raven

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Stress reduction exercises have been linked to many health benefits, but lower blood pressure may not be one of them.

A new study found eight weeks of mindfulness meditation had no effect on people with slightly elevated blood pressure who were not yet taking medication.

“This doesn’t mean that meditation is bad. It just simply doesn’t lower blood pressure,” senior author Dr. Sheldon Tobe of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said.

He said he was expecting to see an effect on blood pressure based on past studies showing benefits with mindfulness meditation. But when he looked back over those earlier trials, Tobe found the majority of participants had been taking blood pressure-lowering drugs.

In those studies, mindfulness therapy could have worked by helping people take their medicine more consistently, Tobe explained.

“Few interventions are as powerful as medication,” he told Reuters Health. “You can reduce salt intake or lose weight and help lower blood pressure, but high blood pressure medication has a more powerful effect.” One in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute considers 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and above to be high blood pressure.

The 101 participants in the new study had an average blood pressure of 135/82 mm Hg, which is considered above normal but not yet classified as high blood pressure.

Half of them were assigned to start the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy right away and the rest were wait-listed to take the class at a later time.

Mindfulness participants went to eight weekly group sessions and attended a day-long silent retreat. Each person was also asked to practice stress reduction for 45 minutes daily.

The study participants, aged 20 to 75, were all counseled with standard high blood pressure advice: eat less salt, quit smoking and exercise more.

At the end of the study period, both people who had gone through the mindfulness program and those on the wait list saw virtually no change in their blood pressure, according to findings published in the American Journal of Hypertension.

Physical therapy researcher Marshall Hagins of Long Island University in Brooklyn said he was disappointed with the results, but only because he wanted the program to show benefits.

“MBSR does lots of positive things, however, if you are an individual with stage one hypertension not currently on medication, and lowering your blood pressure is your goal, then MBSR may not be the optimal program,” Hagins said.

“It’s important to remember that this study was limited to a highly standardized stress reduction program, and the results do not apply to other techniques,” he told Reuters Health. Some examples include Tai Chi and Transcendental Meditation.

A 2007 summary report published by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found Zen Buddhistmeditation and Qi Gong significantly reduced blood pressure.

But Tobe said in his mind, the study results could be the final answer to the question regarding this particular population and method of stress reduction.

Stress reduction exercises like gentle stretching, mindful breathing and walking do not pose any harm to people with early-stage hypertension, he noted.

Within the study, a minority of participants reported dissatisfaction with the mindfulness meditation classes and exercises. Most reported that they felt better.

“If quality of life is improved by mindfulness meditation – that’s fabulous,” Tobe said.

He stressed that people who are worried about their blood pressure should see their family doctor.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1fIPOpT American Journal of Hypertension, online September 14, 2013.

Technology

Pediatricians Call For Limits On Kids’ Screen Time

By Genevra Pittman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Families should make a “media use plan” and set clear rules about TV, cellphones and other devices, pediatricians said today.

That includes limiting kids’ screen time to one or two hours per day. Parents should also keep children’s rooms free of TV and Internet access, according to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)Council on Communications and Media.

“We’re not media-bashers,” Dr. Marjorie Hogan, one of the statement’s lead authors, said. “We love media.” The question, she said, is how to use it for good.

Hogan, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said media can influence kids’ lives in many positive ways. Some TV shows like Sesame Street have been shown to help preschoolers learn or to promote empathy, for example.

“For teens, connectivity, being connected to your peers, having a chance to create your persona, can be a really positive thing,” she told Reuters Health.

And children who have to take long medical absences from school can use online education programs to keep up, the Council writes in Pediatrics.

But too much TV and other media use have been tied to obesity, sleep and school problems and aggression.

Currently, the average child spends about eight hours in front of screens each day, according to the policy statement. That makes screen time the leading activity for young people after sleep.

“Over the past ten years … the amount of media that kids hang out with and spend time with on a given day has increased,” said Amanda Lenhart.

She directs research on teens, children and families for the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and wasn’t involved in the new recommendations.

“We certainly see that more kids have access to mobile phones,” Lenhart told Reuters Health. “Certainly your average child now has more computing power in their pocket than they did a decade ago.”

But TV is still the “predominant form of media” used by kids and teenagers, Hogan said. “More kids watch more hours of TV than other forms of media,” she said.

The new statement was presented Monday at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.

Lenhart said she was happy to see the Council “trying to walk a middle ground” by helping parents and schools see the ways media can be both helpful and harmful.

“I was really pleased to see at least an attempt to balance the positive with the negative,” said Lenhart. Many organizations just focus on the ways TV and other forms of media are bad for kids, she said.

Along with limiting screen time and keeping Internet-connected devices out of kids’ rooms, parents should monitor what their children are accessing online. They should also watch TV shows and movies with them, according to the recommendations.

Children under two years old should not be watching TV or other screens, the Council wrote. At that age, “there’s just no benefit,” Hogan said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/cxXOG Pediatrics, online October 28, 2013.

Lifestyle

What’s the Best Way to Find the Best Senior Care

When we’re young, we’re used to seeing our parents as the picture of health. They’re always there for us to lean on – whatever the reason.

As we reach middle age, though, we start to realize that our parents are becoming more frail and entering the stage of their lives where it’s now our turn to ensure their well-being.

The process of arranging proper care for elderly parents can be one of the most jarring a person has to go through. Many of us are already dealing with so much – kids, work, economic uncertainty…  But these daily stresses are nothing compared to the emotional and financial issues surrounding our responsibility to our elderly parents.  In fact, many people point to this process as the moment in their lives where they finally realize what it truly means to be an adult.

Everyone wants what’s best for their parents but, unfortunately, it’s usually not that simple. The ailments that affect the elderly, be they mental or physical, can often creep up slowly.  It’s not uncommon to wake up one day and realize that one or both of our parents are no longer in a position to properly care for themselves, and when they need help, you may be the one that has to step up and arrange that care for them.

But where to start? The Yellow Pages? Spending hours driving around to look at different facilities?  It’s also not uncommon for there to be disagreements between children and one or both of the parents as to the best course of action. Much as we would wish otherwise, financial considerations sometimes also have to be taken into account.

Fortunately, at this challenging time there is a remarkable organization dedicated to helping everyone involved in this decision.  It’s called A Place For Mom and its mission is to provide seniors and families with one-on-one guidance and assistance as well as comprehensive resources about senior housing and elder care options so that you can make the best decision for your loved ones and for yourself.

The company, which is based in Seattle, has offices in 40 states and employs over 300 Eldercare Advisors.  They work directly with seniors and their families on a one-on-one basis to analyze the individual needs of the family and prepare a variety of options taking into account medical, financial, geographic and other important factors.

The many options they can help walk you through include assisted living communities, Alzheimer’s care, nursing homes, respite care, retirement communities, residential care homes, home care, and hospice care.

This personalized service is offered free to families, as many of the nation’s care communities reimburse the company for its services.  A Place For Mom has been so successful at meeting this need that they have grown to be the nation’s largest elder care referral service.

So, if you or a loved one are involved in these complex and challenging decisions, the professional help of A Place For Mom can be indispensible in guiding you to the very best decision for the people that mean so much to you.