If you're exploring ways to reduce your risk for heart disease, consider going to church. Getting involved could help improve your health, according to a new report.
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Researchers from New York University School of Medicine recently conducted a study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, to determine how faith-based communities can help institute lifestyle changes among African-Americans.
"Vulnerable populations often have lower access to primary care. We need to reduce racial disparities in hypertension-related outcomes between blacks and whites," coauthor Gbenga Ogedegbe said in a statement.
For the assessment, they collected data from 373 black adults from 32 New York City churches from 2010 to 2014. The participants had self-reported diagnosis of hypertension and uncontrolled blood pressure. A third of the group had diabetes and more than half were clinically obese.
During the trial, the subjects met with community health workers at church for 90 minutes weekly for 11 weeks, where they learned to use a food diary, plan ahead for meals, manage stress and find ways to work exercise into daily activities. They were also required to attend three motivational sessions to help them maintain lifestyle changes. Prayer and scripture were also implemented into the program.
After analyzing the results, the scientist found that people who met regularly with the community health workers saw a net reduction of 5.8 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) in systolic blood pressure after six months. If sustained over four to five years, the reduction could decrease heart attacks, stroke and heart failure by at least 20 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“African-Americans have a significantly greater burden of hypertension and heart disease, and our findings prove that people with uncontrolled hypertension can, indeed, better manage their blood pressure through programs administered in places of worship,” Ogedegbe said.
The analysts noted prayer, which they considered a form of meditation, also played a significant role in the results as patients with hypertension often have anxiety and blood pressure levels that are biomarkers of stress. They said prayer can possibly “lead to a reduction in pulse rate.”
The scientists hope clergy and church leaders will use their findings to replicate intervention programs at their churches. They also said they plan to include "community-clinic partnerships to provide more comprehensive, structured health management" for future studies.