Adults with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who participated regularly in a 6-month meditation program experienced less emotional distress and a higher quality of well-being than their counterparts who did not meditate, according to a small study published in the October 2007 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism. This adds to the growing body of evidence that mind-body practices can help people with chronic diseases cope more effectively with the mental, physical and emotional issues that accompany their condition.
Clients with RA are vulnerable to psychological distress in addition to their physical ailments. By conservative estimates, according to this study, the risk of depression is twice as high for those with RA as it is for healthy adults. Investigators from the School of Medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore were interested in testing whether a meditation practice for patients with RA would relieve depression, reduce disease activity, lessen stress and improve well-being and mindfulness.
The scientists randomly assigned 63 adults with rheumatoid arthritis to one of two groups—a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) group or a control group. The former group participated in the 8-week MBSR course developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, followed by a 4-month maintenance program. The mindfulness and meditation training included sitting meditation while observing the breath; sitting meditation with a focus on open awareness; contemplative walking; progressive body relaxation; yoga postures modified for arthritis; and an instructional CD. The investigators requested that subjects practice 6 days a week for 45 minutes daily and record the number of minutes spent practicing each day for the first 2 months.
After 2 months and 6 months, participants completed questionnaires that evaluated depression, stress, well-being and mindfulness. A physician exam assessed disease activity. After 2 months, neither group showed any significant differences. After 6 months, however, stress levels were 35% lower in the MBSR group than in those who did not meditate. No changes in disease activity occurred in either group.
The study authors proposed that a mindfulness meditation program could be valuable way of reducing psychological distress and improving well-being in people with RA. Limitations of the study included its small size and lack of an active control group.