Practicing religion was the secret ingredient, added to lifestyle changes, that helped a group of Black people reduce their high blood pressure, according to a new study published Tuesday in the scientific journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
Researchers used volunteers who suffer from high blood pressure and also attend church to see how certain religious practices would affect their hypertension. Black folks, already by far the most religious group in America, have been disproportionately diagnosed with hypertension.
“Our findings prove that people with uncontrolled hypertension can, indeed, better manage their blood pressure through programs administered in places of worship,” said Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe, the lead author of the study.
The study was based on data collected from 2010 to 2014, from 373 Black participants with hypertension who attend church in New York City.
Researchers divided the participants into two groups,m with each receiving health education. Just one of the groups also received religious intervention, which included prayer, scripture reading and faith-based discussion related to health.
After six months, those in the religious intervention group reduced their systolic blood pressure by 5.8 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury).
Blood pressure readings consist of two parts: systolic and diastolic. Systolic is the pressure created when the heart beats and diastolic is the pressure when it’s resting, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC defines a healthy blood pressure reading as less than 120/80 mm Hg, with the first number systolic and the second diastolic.
African-Americans suffer hypertension at the highest rate in the world, according to the American Heart Association. More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic African-American men and women have high blood pressure. For African-Americans, high blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.
Ogedegbe, who teaches at New York University School of Medicine, urged clergy and church leaders to pay attention to this study.
“Vulnerable populations often have lower access to primary care. We need to reduce racial disparities in hypertension-related outcomes between Blacks and whites,” he added.