Why going to church is good for your heart, even according to science

Here’s a prescription for hypertension your doctor won’t give: Go to church. New research is now suggesting that therapeutic lifestyle changes, which include going to church and enhancing one’s faith, may have a profound impact on heart health. A randomized clinical trial among African-Americans found that hypertensive patients who regularly went to mass had significant reductions in their blood pressure readings. Researchers of the study noted that this effect proved true regardless of other factors such as educational background, gender, or age.

The study, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, explained that having a more faith-based approach in treating hypertension may be a safer and cheaper alternative to conventional medicine.

For the purposes of the study, researchers collected data from 373 African-American participants within 32 New York City churches who suffered from uncontrolled hypertension. Participants were tasked to either attend church plus motivational interviewing for 11 weeks or go through the same amount of health education classes alone. It was found that hypertensive patients who went to mass regularly with motivational interviewing had greater systolic blood pressure reduction. While there was some decrease in blood pressure readings among participants who attended the health education classes, the disparity between readings before and after treatment was not significant.

Authors of the study hypothesize that their results could be explained by the importance and influence the Church plays in many African American communities.

Miserere mei, Deus

Anyone who has gone to mass in a Christian or Catholic church has probably heard of this famous quartet by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri. The choir song, which means “Have mercy on me, O God” was the setting of Psalm 51 and is sung especially for services held on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week. Those who hear the song, especially in the Sistine Chapel, where it first was performed, cannot help but feel a tugging of the heart.

We bring this up not to educate you on church music, but to explain the reason why improving your faith may be good for your health. Spiritual practices, whatever your creed, can have a profound impact on your health. We are not talking about the physical aspects of religion, but the way it is represented in your life. Studies have suggested that being more spiritual, defined as believing in an “other” and finding sincere and earnest meaning in life, can physically manifest itself in lowered blood pressure, decreased risk of heart complications, and a reduced likelihood of suffering from a mental illness.

Gives me a voice to say to the world, “This is why I live”

Data show that practicing a religion can encourage healthy lifestyle habits, especially those involved in socializing with other people. Your faith may not necessarily advocate eating organic, non-GMO, plant-based products, but it may make you feel less lonely. People who are active in their faith typically speak with other practitioners who may provide emotional support.

Climb every mountain

Stress directly affects your immune system. People who are chronically stressed are more vulnerable to disease due to the inflammatory response. Studies have shown that religion reduces stress in a number of ways. Prayers, in particular, have been observed to play a direct role in blood pressure readings. It is posited that worship and other spiritual activities enhance the body’s relaxation response. (Related: Prayer proven to improve health of test subjects.)

No more talk of darkness

Many communities have thrived because of faith, or, at least, the want to do good. Before Big Pharma existed, medicine was created by faith healers who wanted to help and heal as many people as they could. Ancient medical systems operated their missions to serve the poor. Faith may be helping you be healthier by being the cornerstone of the health industry today.

It doesn’t matter what you believe in; the takeaway here is that there is a direct connection between the mind and body, and spiritual practices can make you healthier.

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