Researchers have been gaining new insights into how practices such as meditation and prayer shape the brain and promote positive psychological changes in people. Adding to this growing area of research is a recent study showing that patients with severe heart conditions who participated in a non-denominational spiritual retreat were more optimistic about their futures and less depressed after completing the program. Patients' improvement in mood persisted at three- and six-month follow-up measurements.
The randomized clinical trial (subscription required) involved 41 patients diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome who attended and completed a four-day retreat, which included techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, drumming, journal writing and outdoor activities. Results from this group were compared to two additional groups: one participated in a lifestyle change retreat focusing on nutrition, physical exercise and stress management and the other received standard cardiac care. According to a release:
The spiritual retreat group went from a baseline score of 12 on the Beck Depression Inventory, indicating mild to moderate depression, to an improved score of 6 immediately afterward, a 50-percent reduction. Their scores remained that low half a year later. The lifestyle group saw their scores drop from 11 to 7 and remain there. The control group’s score started at 8 and went down to 6.
Participants also showed marked improvement in their scores on a test measuring hope. Scores on the State Hope Scale can range from 6 to 48, with higher scores indicating greater hope. All three study groups started with average scores between 34 and 36. After the spiritual retreat, participants’ average scores rose and stayed at 40 or above, while the other two groups’ averages remained significantly lower, ranging from 35 to 38, three and six months later.
While the study is small, the findings are significant in light of previous research showing cardiac patients with positive outlooks are 30 percent more likely to live longer than those with less optimistic expectations about their recovery, regardless of the severity of their heart disease.
Previously: Meditate and call me in the morning: Study looks at doctors’ referrals for mind-body therapies, Ommmmm… Mindfulness therapy helps prevent depression relapse, Imaging study shows how meditating helps brain cope with pain and Meditation may be able to lessen symptoms of depression
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