Today’s youth are moving less, gaining weight and developing hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes in increasing numbers. Part of the challenge in treating these formerly adult-type diseases in juveniles is that putting kids on prescriptive medications also poses risks. Scientists continue to search for drug-free ways to improve children’s health.

A recent study found that simple breathing meditation lowered blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) in a group of children with normal BP levels (Psychosomatic Medicine [2004; 66, 909–14]). The children who practiced meditation exhibited greater decreases in BP than those who participated in health education.

The researchers recruited 73 middle-school students (mean age = 12.3 years) and divided them into two groups. The first group was assigned to participate in two 10-minute breathing meditation sessions each day for 3 months. A science teacher led one of the sessions at school, and the kids agreed to perform the other at home. Students in the control group were asked to attend a weekly 20-minute session on the prevention of heart disease and high BP and to participate in a 20-minute walk each day after school. The research team monitored compliance.

The meditation group had significant decreases in BP and HR, compared to no change or slight increases in the health education group. This study suggests that meditation may be a valuable technique for improving children’s health. The technique is easy for kids to learn, costs virtually nothing and can be effectively led by teachers in the classroom. Moreover, other studies have shown that school-based meditation improves classroom conduct.