Personal resilience plays big part in heart health for Black Americans

Black people who have a strong sense of psychological well-being may have better heart health, a new study indicates.

It suggests that feelings of optimism and a sense of purpose and control — hallmarks of psychosocial resilience — are more important to heart health than where people live, researchers said.

Lead researcher TenĂ© Lewis, an associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, noted that differences in heart health between Black and White Americans have been documented for decades. But individual factors affecting Black Americans have not been well understood.

“Almost everything we know about Black Americans and their health focuses on deficits, yet we really need to begin to identify strengths,” she said. “Understanding which strengths matter most for Black Americans — and under which contexts — will allow us to develop the most appropriate and applicable public health interventions for this group.”

For the study, the researchers recruited nearly 400 Black volunteers between the ages of 30 and 70. They investigated whether the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 metrics were linked to better heart health among them. The seven measures include smoking, physical activity, diet, weight, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Participants also completed standard questionnaires gauging their psychosocial health.

This information was then compared with neighborhood data on heart disease and stroke and death rates.

In neighborhoods with high rates of heart disease and stroke, Black adults with higher psychosocial resilience had a 12.5% lower risk of heart disease than those who were less resilient, the researchers found.
The findings were published Oct. 7 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“We assumed that being both high on psychosocial resilience and living in a resilient neighborhood would be the most beneficial for cardiovascular health, yet what we found was that psychosocial resilience demonstrated the most robust association regardless of the neighborhood resilience measure,” Lewis said in a journal news release.

She said more studies like this one are needed to fully understand and respond to factors that promote better health for Black Americans.

More information

For more on mental health and heart health, head to the American Heart Association.

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