Objective: To examine the relationship between religious activities and blood pressure in community-dwelling older adults.
Method: Blood pressure and religious activities were assessed in a probability sample of 3,963 persons age sixty-five years or older participating in the Duke EPESE survey. Participants were asked if their doctor had ever informed them that they had high blood pressure and if they were currently taking medication for high blood pressure. After the interview, systolic and diastolic blood pressure were measured following a standardized protocol. Data were available for three waves of the survey (1986, 1989-90, and 1993-94). Analyses were stratified by age (65-74 vs. over 75) and by race (Whites vs. Blacks) and were controlled for age, race, gender, education, physical functioning, body mass index, and, in longitudinal analyses, blood pressure from the previous wave.
Results: Cross-sectional analyses revealed small (1-4 mm Hg) but consistent differences in measured systolic and diastolic blood pressures between frequent (once/wk) and infrequent (< once/wk) religious service attenders. Lower blood pressures were also observed among those who frequently prayed or studied the Bible (daily or more often). Blood pressure differences were particularly notable in Black and younger elderly, in whom religious activity at one wave predicted blood pressures three years later. Among participants who both attended religious services and prayed or studied the Bible frequently, the likelihood of having a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher was 40 percent lower than found in participants who attended religious services infrequently and prayed or studied the Bible infrequently (OR 0.60, 95% CI, 0.48-0.75, p < .0001). Among participants told they had high blood pressure, religiously active persons were more likely to be taking their blood pressure medication; this could not, however, explain the differences in blood pressure observed. While most religious activity was associated with lower blood pressure, those who frequently watched religious TV or listened to religious radio actually had higher blood pressures.
Conclusions: Religiously active older adults tend to have lower blood pressures than those who are less active. This applies to attendance at religious services and private religious activities, but not to religious media. Physiological mechanisms are discussed.