Although the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Australia has been falling for the past 10 years, it is still a significant health issue. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2022 one in twenty Australians (around 1.3 million people) had heart, stroke or cardiovascular disease.

The decline in CVD-related deaths can be attributed to research into risk factors, medications and the effectiveness of interventions such as lifestyle modifications, medication and medical procedures.

One intervention that may be effective is the practice of mindfulness.

In this article, we will talk about what mindfulness is and how it can support cardiovascular health.

Understanding cardiovascular health

Good cardiovascular health means that the heart, lungs and blood vessels are able to effectively transport blood and oxygen around the body.

‘Cardiovascular disease’ is a term that covers a group of conditions, many of which involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels. These conditions include:

  • cardiac arrest – where the heart stops beating
  • heart attack – when a blockage stops blood flow to the heart
  • stroke – when the blood supply to the brain is cut off by a blockage or the rupture of an artery.

You can find out about the signs of cardiovascular problems here.

Risk factors for CVD can be modifiable (meaning you can do something about them) and non-modifiable (those you cannot change).

Non-modifiable risk factors for CVD include:

  • having a family history of CVD
  • ethnic background – Indigenous Australians are at higher risk of developing CVD than non-Indigenous Australians and are more likely to develop it at a younger age
  • age – CVD is most common in people over 50 and the risk increases as you get older
  • biological sex – men are more likely to develop CVD at an earlier age than women
  • living with diabetes.

Modifiable risk factors for CVD include:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • high cholesterol
  • eating an unhealthy diet 
  • being at an unhealthy weight
  • alcohol 
  • not doing the recommended amount of physical exercise
  • stress.

The way to lower the risk of developing CVD is to take action to decrease modifiable risk factors.

The link between stress and cardiovascular health

Chronic (long-term) stress can have a negative impact on the heart and blood vessels by contributing to the development of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure – this puts pressure on the arteries, which can damage them and contribute to atherosclerosis.
  • Atherosclerosis – this is where cholesterol builds up on the walls of the blood vessels, forming a fatty substance known as plaque. Over time, the amount of plaque grows, narrowing the blood vessels and reducing blood flow. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Arteriosclerosis (aka ‘hardening of the arteries’) – where blood vessels become thickened and stiff, restricting blood flow around the body.
  • Inflammation.

Stress can also negatively influence the modifiable risk factors for CVD: it can increase a person’s tendency to smoke, eat and unhealthy diet, not do the recommended amount of exercise and consume excessive amounts of alcohol.

Stress levels can be reduced by mindfulness.

Mindfulness defined

Mindfulness is the practice of repeatedly focusing your awareness on the present moment. Although the technique has roots in Buddhism, you do not need to have any religious or spiritual beliefs to benefit from it.

The core principles of mindfulness are:

  1. Intention – choosing to cultivate your awareness of the present moment.
  2. Attention – paying attention to the present moment and the sensations and thoughts it brings.
  3. Attitude – being curious and non-judgmental about those sensations and thoughts.

Mindfulness has a wide range of applications that promote overall well-being. These include:

  • reducing stress, anxiety and depression
  • improving mood
  • supporting pain management
  • enhancing the quality of sleep
  • lowering blood pressure
  • providing mental clarity.

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for reducing stress-related risk factors for CVDs, particularly high blood pressure. It can enable people to respond to stress in a considered manner rather than reacting to it impulsively.

Benefits of mindfulness practices on cardiovascular wellness

Integrating mindfulness into daily life

Making mindfulness a regular part of daily life allows people to benefit from its positive impact on emotional and physical health. Here are some tips for integrating mindfulness into everyday activities.

  • At work – take a few moments at the beginning of your work day to set an intention such as staying focused on one task at a time. 
  • During meals – pay attention to the taste, texture and aroma of your food, and notice the colours and shapes on your plate.
  • Leisure activities such as reading, listening to music or going for a walk can be turned into mindfulness exercises. 

Mindfulness supports cardiovascular wellness most effectively if you are able to do it consistently. It can be helpful to start small, with just a few minutes per day and gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable with it.

The easiest way to practise mindfulness is to focus on your breathing. The idea is to place your attention on the inhalation and exhalation as a way of bringing your attention back to the present moment over and over.

  • Start by becoming aware of the sensation of your breathing – feel the rise and fall of your belly.
  • Don’t try to change how you’re breathing – just notice it.
  • Feel the breath moving in and out of your nostrils – notice how it’s cool on the inhale and warm on the exhale.
  • At some point, you may notice that your mind has wandered or you’ve been distracted by something – if that happens, gently guide your attention back to your breathing without judging your ‘performance’.
  • Repeat this process over and over again. 

Mindfulness and lifestyle factors

As mindfulness can help you manage stress and anxiety and feel more relaxed, it can improve the quality of your sleep. Being rested, relaxed and focused puts you in a better frame of mind to make healthy choices about exercise and nutrition, and whether or not to smoke or use alcohol.

It can also support the management of unhealthy habits. Observing these habits can help you to become aware of your choices, leading to more control and flexibility. 

Mindfulness-based programs

The blueprint for most mindfulness-based programs is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which was developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts in the 1970s.

The core practices in that and most other MBSR programs include:

  • Body scan meditation – systematically focusing attention on different parts of the body, from the toes to the head, and observing any sensations that arise.
  • Sitting meditation – focusing on the breath, an image, or a word or phrase, and gently returning your attention to this focus whenever the mind wanders.
  • Mindful yoga – doing gentle stretching exercises designed to strengthen the connection between the mind and the body.

Other programs include:

  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which combines mindfulness techniques with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help manage stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Heartfulness meditation, which focuses specifically on cardiovascular wellness. This practice involves placing attention on the heart and experiencing feelings of love and compassion.

Most mindfulness-based interventions feature the following common key elements:

  • Mindfulness, including breath awareness or body scan meditations.
  • An educational component where participants learn about stress, cardiovascular disease and the role of mindfulness in managing these conditions.
  • Group support where participants can share their experiences and learn from others.
  • Home practice – practising mindfulness exercises at home to reinforce the skills learnt during the sessions.
  • Making lifestyle changes such as adopting a heart-healthy diet and doing regular exercise to support cardiovascular wellness.

Scientific evidence and mindfulness

The cardiovascular benefits of mindfulness have been known for some time. As far back as 2010, The Australian Journal of Primary Health published a review of 15 studies of the effects of MBSR programs for people with chronic diseases, including CVD. All the studies had found that the programs had positive effects.


Practising mindfulness can support cardiovascular health. The Life! program can provide you with a comprehensive range of tools that will also help you to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Life! is a free healthy lifestyle program that helps you improve your eating habits, increase your physical activity and manage stress. You can choose from a group course or the telephone health coaching service. 

Our experienced health professionals will help you make small changes to your lifestyle so that you can achieve your health goals and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Life! program is funded by the Victorian Government and managed by Diabetes Victoria. You can check your eligibility for the program here.


Blog: 6 ways to practise mindfulness – headspace

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Circulatory system – health direct
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How Do Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improve Keeping your heart healthy – Heart Foundation
Mental Health and Wellbeing? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Mediation Studies – Clinical Psychology Review
Mindfulness – health direct
Mindfulness – Psychology Today Australia
Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Adults with Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – Annals of Behavioral Medicine
Mindfulness-based stress reduction for people with chronic diseases – Australian Journal of Primary Health
Risk factors for heart disease – Heart Research Institute
The 12 most common heart and cardiovascular conditions – Heart Research Institute