Praying For Lower Blood Pressure?
The next time you bow your head to say a prayer, maybe you should add a thank
you for lower blood pressure.
In the African Americans population, a group particularly prone to high blood
pressure and its affects on the heart and body, it seems a little faith or
spirituality may play a significant part in lowering blood pressure.
"African Americans have a much higher burden of high blood pressure than any
other group," says Dr. Sharon Wyatt, study author from the University of
Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
In a recent study, Wyatt and colleagues found that those African Americans who
were involved with religious activities had significantly lower blood pressure
than those who weren't, despite other factors that increase one's risk of this
"The integration of religion and spirituality—attending church and praying—may
buffer individuals exposed to stress and delay the deleterious effects of high
blood pressure," says Wyatt.
For the study, researchers used interviews and surveys of over 5,000 African
American men and women to determine both their degree and type of religious
participation. All levels of spiritual activity were included, from church
attendance to private prayer and from meditation to actively using religious
beliefs to make decisions.
As many as 80 percent reported attending organized religious activities weekly,
and 93 percent participated in organized religion a few times a month.
Additionally, 94 percent of the participants said that they used religion to
help them deal with stressful situations.
Participants were also asked about various factors that may impact one's blood
pressure, including access to health care, their amount of stress, diet and
whether they smoke. The results of the study were presented at the annual
meeting of the American Society of Hypertension.
Interestingly, the researchers found that those who participated in religious
activities were more likely to be overweight and to not take prescribed
medication regularly. In spite of these two serious risk factors, however, these
spiritual people also had lower blood pressure than those who had little or no
spiritual activities as part of their routine.
Why does religion have such a powerful impact on one's blood pressure?
While no one yet knows for sure, Wyatt suspects that spiritual actions help
lower blood pressure because they act as a stress reliever. Those in the study
who participated in religious activities had lower blood levels of cortisol, an
indicator of stress. Since stress is a major cause of high blood pressure, any
routine escape from stress, like attending a church service, sitting silently
during prayer or even interacting with the built-in social network of religious
groups can help you relax, potentially lowering blood pressure.
Wyatt hopes that further research will elucidate exactly which aspects of
religion and spirituality help to lower blood pressure, but in the meantime,
feels that health care professionals should acknowledge the role these
activities can play in a person's health.
"These practices can be useful for individuals to incorporate in to their daily
lives," she says.