Positive Influence of Religion and Spirituality on Blood Pressure

A study of more than five thousand African Americans found that individuals who were involved with or participated in religious activities had significantly lower blood pressure than those who were not, despite being more likely to be classified as hypertensive, having higher levels of body mass index (BMI), and lower levels of medication adherence.

The findings, presented today in New York City at the 21st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension (ASH 2006), are from the Jackson Heart Study, the largest exclusively African American study sample ever used to ascertain associations among religion, spirituality and blood pressure.

“Cardiovascular health disparities among African Americans are widely recognized, and hypertension is the most prominent risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease in African Americans,” said study author Sharon Wyatt, RN, PhD, from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.

“Our findings show that the integration of religion and spirituality -  attending church and praying -  may buffer individuals exposed to stress and delay the deleterious effects of hypertension. These practices can be useful for individuals to incorporate into their daily lives.”

The Jackson Heart Study followed 5,302 participants to evaluate the effects of religion and spirituality on both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Religion and spirituality were assessed with several questionnaires that examined organized religious activities (church attendance, watching religious television), non-organized religious activities (private prayer, meditation), religious coping (integration of religious beliefs into decision-making during times of stress), and daily spiritual experiences (interaction with God). The religion items were self-administered; other questionnaires were interviewer administered with some collected during the home induction interview in the participant’s home (personal and family health history, socioeconomic status, smoking, physical activity, and health care access). Statistical analyses were conducted using measures of association and linear regression to examine the effects of each religious variable on blood pressure. Potential confounding and explanatory variables including selected demographic (age, gender, socioeconomic status), sociocultural (racism, social support), psychological (depression, stress), and physiological (cortisol) were included in the statistical models.

Female gender, lower socioeconomic status, increasing age, and lower levels of cortisol were associated with more religious activities. Higher levels of religious participation were related to higher levels of body mass index (BMI) and lower levels of medication adherence. Contrary to the original hypotheses, those with more religious activities and participation were more likely to be classified as hypertensive. However, those with more religious activities had significantly lower diastolic blood pressure in an uncontrolled model, and significantly lower systolic blood pressure in a controlled model.

Previous literature involving religion and spirituality has noted a protective, or buffering effect on health outcomes. These findings support the buffering effect of religion and spirituality on blood pressure.

Source: American Society of Hypertension (ASH)

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Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.