Religiosity, spirituality linked to better heart health in African Americans


Researchers grouped participants by religious behaviors (their self-reported levels of participation in religious services/Bible study groups, private prayer, and use of religious beliefs or practices to cope with difficult life situations and to stressful events – called religious adaptation in the study); and spirituality (belief in the existence of a supreme being, deity or God).

The religious behavior questions were adapted from the Fetzer Multidimensional Measurement of Religiousness/Spirituality (religious participation, private prayer) and Religious Coping scale (religious adaptation) instruments. The measures of spirituality were adapted from the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale, which assesses ordinary daily experiences according to theistic spirituality (belief in the existence of a supreme being, deity or God and feeling the presence of God, desire a closer union with God, feel God’s love) and non-theistic spirituality (feel strength in my religion, feel deep inner peace and harmony, or feel spiritually touched by creation).

Participants were then grouped according to scores of religiosity and spirituality by health factors: physical activity, diet, smoking, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, plus the composite score of the seven components of Life’s Simple 7 to assess cardiovascular health. The researchers estimated the odds of achieving intermediate and ideal levels of heart disease prevention goals based on religiosity/spirituality scores.

Participants who reported having more religious activity or having deeper levels of spiritual beliefs were more likely to meet key measures of cardiovascular health:

  • Greater frequency of attendance at religious services or activities was associated with a 16% increase in the odds of reaching “intermediate” or “ideal” parameters for physical activity, 10% for diet, 50% for smoking, 12% for blood pressure and 15% for the composite heart health score.
  • Reported greater frequency of private prayer was associated with a 12% increase in the odds of reaching intermediate or ideal parameters for eating and a 24% increase in the odds of reaching smoking-related parameters.
  • Religious accommodation was associated with an 18% increased odds of achieving intermediate and ideal levels of physical activity, a 10% increased odds of having a healthy diet, 32% increased odds of smoking, and 14% for the composite cardiovascular health score.
  • Total spirituality was associated with an 11% increase in the odds of reaching intermediate and ideal levels for physical activity and 36% for smoking.

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

“Our findings highlight the important role that culturally appropriate health promotion initiatives and lifestyle change recommendations can play in promoting health equity,” she added. “The cultural relevance of interventions may increase their likelihood of influencing cardiovascular health as well as the sustainability and maintenance of healthy lifestyle changes. »

Brewer added: “This is particularly important for socio-economically disadvantaged communities facing multiple challenges and stressors. Religiosity and spirituality can serve as a buffer against stress and have therapeutic goals or support empowerment to adopt healthy behaviors and seek preventive health services.”

The religiosity/spirituality survey was conducted at some point during the Jackson Heart Study, so participants’ cardiovascular health was not analyzed over time. Also, people who had experienced heart disease were not included in this analysis.

Co-authors are Janice Bowie, Ph.D., MPH; Joshua P. Slusser; Christopher G. Scott, MS; Lisa A. Cooper, MD, MPH; Sharonne N. Hayes, MD; Christi A. Patten, Ph.D.; and Mario Sims, Ph.D., MS Author disclosures are listed in the manuscript.

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