WASHINGTON — Obese African American heart patients who regularly practice transcendental meditation are 48 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or die, a new study found Tuesday.

Regular meditation also lowered blood pressure and reduced stress levels, while greater time spent meditating was associated with longer survival, according to the research published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

"We hypothesized that reducing stress by managing the mind-body connection would help improve rates of this epidemic disease," said Robert Schneider, lead researcher and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa.

"It appears that transcendental meditation is a technique that turns on the body's own pharmacy -- to repair and maintain itself," added Schneider, who led researchers conducting the study from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

The basic meditation involved being seated with eyes closed for about 20 minutes, twice a day.

The study subjects were compared to a control group who attended a health education class over more than five years.

African Americans have double the mortality rate of white Americans for heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world.