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October 7th, 2010
11:08 AM ET

More faithful, more fit?

Church groups emphasizing the importance of exercise inspired formerly sedentary older African American women to get fit, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The "Sisters in Motion" study used a cornerstone of the African American community – faith – as a tool to promote physical activity among African American women, a group considered to be one of the least physically active in the U.S., according to Dr. O. Kenrik Duru, a primary care physician at University of California, Los Angeles and the study's lead researcher.

"Older African American women are very religious and spiritual. I think over 90 percent pray every day," said Duru, "When you're targeting community members like this, you want to focus on strengths."

Duru and his research team devised an eight-week, faith-based intervention program for 62 African-American women, age 60 or older, who reported engaging in 30 minutes of exercise less than three times per week.

One group of study participants attended group prayer meetings, read spiritual passages and exercised. These sessions stressed how spirituality relates to physical activity. A second (control) group exercised but did not attend faith services. Instead, they attended small group lectures on topics such as memory loss and identity.

Duru and colleagues followed up with participants six months after the study concluded and found a noticeable  increase in physical activity among women involved in the faith-based program. They walked about three miles more than the control group each week. They also had a marked decrease in their systolic blood pressure.

"A decrease in systolic blood pressure suggests there is a potential you could have a decrease of cardiovascular disease, of stroke, of kidney problems," said Duru. "We need to have a larger study with more people to confirm that but I think there's a strong suggestion that intervention could improve the outcomes."

Duru added that the results have the potential to create a shift in the public health paradigm of minorities and diseases.

"Integrating faith-based principles with the established evidence-based ideas is exciting field," said Duru. "That's something we need to consider given so many of the patients that we see do have a strong spiritual, religious background and that can be advantageous in terms of helping them achieve behavior change."


soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. drstephaniesmith

    This is a great example of using what is important to people to help them lead all-around healthier lives. We can learn a lot from the authors and participants of this study. And hopefully it will encourage all of us in the behavior-change business to learn to meet folks where they are rather than where we think – or wish – they would be. Great article!

    October 7, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. fighthate

    This is a good idea for a program to get people more active, but I question CNN's choice of words for the headline. I thought this was going to be about a correlation between being more religious and more active. Incorporate exercise into any activity that people love, and they will associate positive feelings with exercise. A great idea, but a poor choice of headline. This tells us nothing of whether being more faithful causes someone to be more fit.

    October 7, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aloisae

      *laughs* I agree. I was looking for a correlation between faith and health.. not how religion can become gym leaders!

      I do like the total person approach though and helping the congregation with life issues.

      October 7, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse |
  3. Veggiehead

    "Older African American women are very religious and spiritual." I wonder whether you would get away with that statement if you replaced "African American" with "Latino" or "milddle-class white." While it may TEND to be true in all three cases, it's crass generalization, and that's offensive.

    October 7, 2010 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cole

      Tend to be true? No, it's factual. Multiple surveys/polls conducted (On churches) have shown African-American women to be the most active demographic group. They have also shown:

      Republicans are more active than Independents and both are more active than Democrats (Anyone "offended" by that?).
      Those living at the South (Most) and Midwest are more active than those at the East and West (Least).
      There doesn't seem to be a difference when it comes to education level.

      None of that is shocking; most would have predicted just that. If you're offended by survey data, that's more telling of yourself than some (supported) comment a doctor made.

      On the study, it seems like a "duh" topic. Religious groups are bound to be more supportive of their members than some lecture group and as many will tell you, it's easier to exercise with a friend/support. I just don't think being in a lecture group about memory loss and identity encourages camaraderie (It would depress me) like a group prayer would.

      October 7, 2010 at 19:40 | Report abuse |
    • drew

      no, silly. Latina women would be religious, because they "tend" to go to church.

      White women would be atheists, because they "tend" to do everything but what the bible says.

      anymore questions?

      October 7, 2010 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
  4. Cameron

    Well yeah. People with lower IQ's tend to be in better shape than people with high IQ's. And people with high IQ's tend to be nonreligious.

    October 7, 2010 at 20:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      So Cameron, you're freakin ripped then right?

      October 7, 2010 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
  5. thes33k3r

    Now if someone can just get them to exercise their brains enough to question the religious nonsense they allow themselves to be continuously subjected to.

    October 8, 2010 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. http://myblogbuffett.blogspot.com/

    all of your comments are funny...lol

    October 9, 2010 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 11, 2010 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Agnes Delware

    I agree that faith and fitness are equally important and the combination of the two can cause major change in the black community. I am a huge fan of Enliven Magazine as it focuses on the spirit behind being healthy.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.