Black Americans are at high risk of cardiovascular disease. They are about 30 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than non-Hispanic, white Americans.
Studies have found that being religious can lead Black Americans to pursue healthier behaviors. Evidence has been inconclusive about the link between religiosity and specific measures of cardiovascular health, but a recent study offers some encouraging information on the healthful effects of being religious.
A team led by researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that compared to those who said they were not religious, Black Americans who reported being religious were more likely to meet the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 measures of cardiovascular health. When sleep was added to the Simple 7 guidelines, they became Life’s Essential 8 — health guidelines which include diet, smoking, physical activity, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels and, now, sleep.
Recognizing the central role of religion and spirituality in Black American life may help providers address disparities in cardiovascular health through lifestyle interventions that are culturally relevant, according to the lead author on the study, LaPrincess Brewer, a preventive cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “With religious and spiritual beliefs factored into our approaches, we may make major breakthroughs in fostering the relationship between patients and physicians to build trust and sociocultural understanding of this population.”
Some encouraging information on the healthful effects of being religious.
Data from almost 3,000 people participating in the Jackson Heart Study were analyzed. Participants responded to a questionnaire about whether they were particularly religious (defined as attendance at religious services, praying in private, and using prayer to cope with difficult or stressful life events) or spiritual.
Those who attended religious services were 16 percent more likely to reach intermediate or ideal levels of physical activity, 10 percent more likely to reach intermediate or ideal criteria for a healthy diet, 50 percent more likely to be a former or never smoker, 12 percent more likely to meet intermediate or ideal metrics for blood pressure and 15 percent more likely to have an intermediate or ideal composite cardiovascular health score based on Life’s Simple 7 criteria.
Frequent private prayer was associated with a 12 percent greater likelihood of reaching intermediate or ideal criteria for diet and a 24 percent greater likelihood of being a former or never smoker.
Those who called on their faith to cope with difficult or stressful situations were 18 percent more likely to reach intermediate or ideal levels of physical activity, 10 percent more likely to reach intermediate or ideal criteria for diet, 32 percent more likely to be a former or never smoker and 14 percent more likely to have an intermediate or ideal composite cardiovascular health score.
Those who described themselves as spiritual were 11 percent more likely to reach intermediate or ideal levels of physical activity and 36 percent more likely to be a former or never smoker.
“I was a little surprised that multiple dimensions of religiosity and spirituality are associated with improved cardiovascular health across dimensions that are extremely challenging to change, such as diet, physical activity and smoking,” Brewer said.
The survey about religiousness and spirituality was conducted at baseline, and cardiovascular disease metrics were collected at the same time during the Jackson Heart Study; so changes in participants’ cardiovascular health determined by Life’s Simple 7 measures could not be followed over time. People with existing cardiovascular disease were also excluded from the current analysis. The researchers said that in the future, including Black Americans with known cardiovascular disease might give researchers insights into how religiousness and spirituality affect clinical outcomes.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.