Adene Sanchez/E+ via Getty Images
(Adene Sanchez/E+ via Getty Images)

Black adults who attend church frequently or have a deep sense of spirituality are more likely to meet key measures for good cardiovascular health, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and keeping blood pressure in the normal range , a new study reveals.

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, is the first to investigate the link between religious and spiritual practices among black adults and adherence to a variety of behaviors and other factors considered by the American Heart Association to be critical to achievement. optimal cardiovascular health.

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

“By incorporating religious and spiritual beliefs into our approaches, we can make great strides in fostering relationships 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 poorer overall 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, described three behaviors (diet, physical activity, and nicotine exposure) and four physiological factors (weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose 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 – were 54 years old on average. The Jackson Heart Study is the largest community-based investigation of cardiovascular disease among black adults in the US that has been ongoing since 1998, involving 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 meet measures of good cardiovascular health.

Those who attended religious services or activities more often were 16% more likely to meet intermediate or ideal metrics for physical activity, 10% more likely to eat a heart-healthy diet, 50% more likely high to not smoke and 12% higher odds of it. maintaining good blood pressure than those with less frequent church attendance. They had a 15% higher probability of achieving an intermediate or ideal cardiovascular health score.

Those who reported engaging in private prayer more often were 12% more likely to achieve intermediate or ideal dietary metrics 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 heart-healthy diet, 32% higher odds of not smoking and 14% higher chance of having an intermediate or ideal makeup. cardiovascular outcome.

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

The measures of religion and spirituality were taken at a single point in time, so it is not known how they affected cardiovascular health over time.

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

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

“The cultural relevance of interventions may increase their likelihood of impacting cardiovascular health and also the sustainability and maintenance of healthy lifestyle changes,” Brewer said. “Religiosity and spirituality can serve as a buffer against stress 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 email [email protected].

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