Spirituality May Help Blood Pressure

Study Shows People Who Engage in Religious Activities Have Lower Blood Pressure

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 18, 2006

May 18, 2006 (New York City) -- Add lower blood pressure to the list of reasons to say your prayers.

A new study of more than 5,300 African-Americans shows that religion and spirituality may help to keep blood pressure under control.

The study, the largest on the topic in blacks to date, showed that people who were involved in religious activities had significantly lower blood pressure than people who were not.

“What made this really fascinating is that the link between spirituality and blood pressure held true even though those who were involved in religious activities were more likely to have higher body mass index scores and were less likely to take their medication as directed,” says researcher Sharon Wyatt, RN, PhD, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

“Integration of religion and spirituality -- such as attending church and praying -- into your daily life may help delay the deleterious effects of hypertensionhypertension,” she says.

Another noteworthy finding was that people who engaged in religious activities had lower levels of cortisol, a biological marker of stressstress, Wyatt tells WebMD.

“This suggests a pathway by which religion may work in the body, as lower stress has been linked to lower blood pressure,” she says.

The latest findings from the ongoing Jackson Heart Study were presented here at the American Society of Hypertension’s annual meeting.

Blacks at High Risk of High Blood Pressure

The study included 5,302 black participants aged 35 to 85, two-thirds of whom were women. Wyatt says the reason they chose to study blacks is that they are more likely to have high blood pressure than whites and hypertension is the biggest risk factor for the development of heart diseaseheart disease and strokestroke in African-Americans.

Participants were asked how often they attended church, watched religious television, and engaged in private prayer and meditation. Additionally, they were asked whether they looked to a higher power in times of stress and to what extent their religion or spirituality played in helping them through times of stress.

People were considered to have high blood pressure if they had a reading of 140/90 or higher and were on blood pressure-lowering medication or if they had been told by their doctor that they had hypertension.

American Society of Hypertension president Thomas D. Giles, MD, professor of medicine at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, says that the impact of religion and spirituality on both mental and physical health is currently a topic of great interest.

“In fact, we’ve put in a grant to study black Seventh Day Adventists,” he tells WebMD. “I wouldn’t be surprised if our findings were in line with these, showing that religion and spirituality weighs heavily on positive outcomes in this high-risk group.”

Show Sources

SOURCES: American Society of Hypertension 21st Annual Scientific Meeting, New York City, May 16-20, 2006. Sharon Wyatt, RN, PhD, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson. Thomas D. Giles, MD, professor of medicine, Louisiana State University School of Medicine, New Orleans; and president, American Society of Hypertension.
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