Religious practices among black adults are associated with better measures of heart health

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Black adults who attend church frequently or have a deep sense of spirituality are more likely to meet key measures of good cardiovascular health, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet and maintaining normal blood pressure, new research has found.

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, is the first to examine the relationship between religious practices and spirituality among black adults and adherence to a set of behaviors and other factors considered by the American Heart Association to be critical to achieving optimal cardiovascular health. vascular health.

“Health care professionals and researchers need to recognize the importance of religious and spiritual influences in the lives of African Americans — who tend to be highly religious,” said lead study author Dr. LaPrincess C. Brewer in a news release. She is a preventive cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“With religious and spiritual beliefs incorporated into our approaches, we can make great inroads in fostering the relationship between patients and physicians and between community members and scientists to build trust and sociocultural understanding of this population,” she said.

According to a 2017 AHA scientific statement, black adults have overall poorer cardiovascular health and higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease than their non-Hispanic white peers.

The AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, developed in 2010, describes three behaviors (diet, physical activity, and nicotine exposure) and four physiological factors (weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels) important for good cardiovascular health . Sleep was added as an eighth component in June 2022, when the list was renamed Life’s Essential 8.

The researchers analyzed health and religious data collected through in-depth interviews, health examinations and surveys for 2,967 participants in the Jackson Heart Study who identified as African American. The participants – 66% of whom were women – had an average age of 54. The Jackson Heart Study is the largest community-based study of cardiovascular disease among black adults in the U.S. It has been conducted since 1998 and includes more than 5,000 adults living in the area around Jackson, Mississippi.

In general, those who reported more religious activity or had deeper levels of spiritual beliefs were more likely to respond to measures of good cardiovascular health.

Those who attended religious services or activities more often were 16% more likely to achieve intermediate or ideal physical activity, 10% more likely to eat a healthy diet, 50% more likely for not smoking and 12% higher odds of maintaining good blood pressure than those with less frequent church attendance. They were 15% more likely to achieve an intermediate or ideal cardiovascular health composite score.

Those who reported engaging in personal prayer more often were 12% more likely to meet intermediate or ideal dietary benchmarks and 24% more likely to not smoke. Religious coping was associated with 18% higher odds of achieving intermediate or ideal levels of physical activity, 10% higher odds of eating a healthy diet, 32% higher odds of not smoking, and 14% higher odds of intermediate or ideal composite cardiovascular outcome.

Full spirituality was associated with 11% higher odds of achieving intermediate or ideal levels of physical activity and 36% higher odds of not smoking.

Measures of religiosity and spirituality were taken at one point in time, so it is not known how they affected cardiovascular health over time.

“I was slightly surprised by the findings that multiple dimensions of religiosity and spirituality were associated with improved cardiovascular health across multiple health behaviors that are extremely difficult to change, such as diet, physical activity, and smoking,” Brewer said.

The findings underscore the importance of culturally responsive health care efforts in advancing health equity, particularly for socioeconomically disenfranchised communities facing multiple challenges, she said.

“The cultural salience of interventions may increase the likelihood that they will affect cardiovascular health, as well as the sustainability and maintenance of healthy lifestyle changes,” Brewer said. “Religiosity and spirituality can serve as a stress buffer and have therapeutic purposes or support self-empowerment to practice healthy behaviors and seek preventive health services.”

If you have questions or comments about this American Heart Association news release, please send an email [email protected].

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