By Randy Dotinga
WEDNESDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- Italian researchers have some advice for those with high blood pressure: Breathe slowly. Turn on some quiet, rhythmic music. And watch your high blood pressure take a little tumble.
The researchers base their conclusions on a small new study. But they aren't suggesting anyone turn to breathing exercises and music instead of medicine.
Still, "easy and enjoyable daily music listening combined with slow abdominal breathing may help people naturally lower their blood pressure," said Dr. Pietro A. Modesti, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Florence.
In what's touted as the first study of its kind, Modesti and his colleagues recruited 48 patients to study the effect of listening to music on blood pressure. The patients, who ranged in age from 60 to 76, all suffered from mild high blood pressure and took medication for it.
Of the patients, 28 listened to 30 minutes of classical, Celtic or raga music a day while conducting slow, controlled deep-breathing exercises. (Raga, an ancient kind of music, was developed in India.)
All the music was slow and rhythmic.
Another 20 patients served as a control group and didn't undergo the music and breathing therapy.
On average, the blood pressure among those who listened to music dropped by 3 mmHG at one week and 4 mmHG at one month, compared to people in the control group.
Doctors consider healthy blood pressure to be below 140/90 mmHG. High blood pressure -- hypertension -- is thought to affect one in three adult Americans, although many don't realize they have it. The condition can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and stroke, among other problems.
The study authors also found that other non-drug "interventions" -- including restriction of salt intake, exercise and limits on alcohol consumption -- had about the same effect.
"Further studies are needed to confirm the effect in the long term," Modesti said.
Researchers have previously found that relaxation can relieve people's cardiovascular symptoms. But the researchers behind the new study discovered that relaxation significantly affected blood pressure only if it was combined with quiet music.
The findings were to be presented Wednesday at the American Society of Hypertension's annual meeting, in New Orleans.
Modesti said the key appears to be the slow breathing that the patients engaged in during the study.
The findings are useful, he added, because they can complement existing treatments. "The side effects and cost of antihypertensive drugs have led to a consensus about the need for effective non-pharmacological treatment alone or adjunctive to drug therapy," he said.
Dr. George Bakris, director of the hypertensive disorders unit at the University of Chicago, noted that the study only looked at people with mild high blood pressure.
In those patients, he said, it's important to note that "this does not prevent hypertension, but helps to alleviate it."
Learn more about high blood pressure from the American Heart Association.