Religiousness, spirituality linked to better heart health among African Americans: Church attendance, prayer may boost heart health among African American adults, according to study

African American adults who reported more frequent participation in religious activities and/or deeper spiritual beliefs may be more likely to meet some of the American Heart Association’s key metrics for cardiovascular health, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet and normal blood pressure, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access, peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

This study is the first to investigate among African Americans the association of a comprehensive set of cardiovascular health behaviors — the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 metrics (diet, physical activity and nicotine exposure) and physiological factors (weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels) with religious beliefs and spirituality. The Life’s Simple 7 metrics, established in 2010, were expanded and renamed to Life’s Essential 8 in June 2022, with sleep added as the eighth component of optimal heart health.

African Americans have poorer overall cardiovascular health than non-Hispanic white people, and death from cardiovascular diseases is higher in African American adults than white adults, according to the American Heart Associations’ 2017 “Cardiovascular Health in African Americans” scientific statement.

“Health professionals and researchers should acknowledge the importance of religious and spiritual influences in the lives of African Americans — who tend to be highly religious,” said the study’s lead author LaPrincess C. Brewer, M.D., M.P.H., a preventive cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “With religious and spiritual beliefs factored into our approaches, we may make major breakthroughs in fostering the relationship between patients and physicians and between community members and scientists to build trust and sociocultural understanding of this population.”

Researchers analyzed responses gauging religiosity (strong religious feeling or belief from any religion), spirituality and the Life’s Simple 7 cardiovascular health indicators from surveys and health screenings of 2,967 African American participants in the Jackson Heart Study. The Jackson Heart Study is the largest single-site, community-based investigation of cardiovascular disease among African American adults in the U.S. On average, participants were 54 years old at study enrollment, and 66% were women. The ongoing study, initiated in 1998, includes more than 5,000 adults ages 21- to 84-years-old who identify as African American and living in the tri-county area of Jackson, Mississippi.

Researchers grouped participants by religious behaviors (their self-reported levels of attending church service/bible study groups, private prayer and the use of religious beliefs or practices in adapting to difficult life situations and stressful events — called religious coping in the study); and spirituality (belief in the existence of a supreme being, deity or God).

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