Investigating the effect of mindfulness training on heart rate variability in mental health outpatients: A pilot study

Alexis Wheeler, Linley Denson, Christopher Neil, Graeme Tucker, Maura Kenny, John Beltrame, Geoff Schrader, Michael Proeve

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Depression is associated with increased cardiac morbidity and mortality in people with and without cardiac risk factors, and this relationship is, in part, mediated by heart rate variability (HRV). Increased heart rate and reduced HRV are common in depressed patients, which may explain their higher cardiac risk. This pilot study investigated whether mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) promoted objective changes in (1) HRV, and (2) depressive symptoms and quality of life, in mental health outpatients. Twenty-seven adults meeting criteria for DSM-IV Axis I disorders completed an 8-week MBCT program. Data were collected on three occasions, 8 weeks apart; twice before and once after MBCT. Participants completed the Short Form-36 and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) at each test period. Heart rate and HRV were measured during electrocardiographic monitoring before and after a cognitive stressor. At baseline, 78% of participants met criteria for depression (CES-D ≥16). Multivariate analyses revealed a significant treatment effect for SF-36 physical summary score and depression (as a dichotomous variable), but not for HRV. This pilot study highlights the immediate psychological and health benefits of MBCT. Low power may have influenced the lack of a finding of an association between HRV and MBCT. However, the feasibility of the study design has been established, and supports the need for larger and longer-term studies of the potential physiological benefits of MBCT for cardiac health.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)175-188
    Number of pages14
    JournalBehaviour Change
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


    • anxiety
    • depression
    • heart rate variability
    • mindfulness
    • psychiatric
    • quality of life


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