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Relaxation response and spirituality: Pathways to improve psychological outcomes in cardiac rehabilitation
Journal of Psychosomatic Research (2010)
  • Bei-Hung Chang, Boston University
  • Aggie Casey, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Jeffery A. Dusek, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Herbert Benson, Harvard Medical School
OBJECTIVES: Studies have shown beneficial effects from practicing the relaxation response (RR). Various pathways for these effects have been investigated. Previous small studies suggest that spirituality might be a pathway for the health effects of the RR. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that increased spiritual well-being by eliciting the RR is one pathway resulting in improved psychological outcomes.

METHODS: This observational study included 845 outpatients who completed a 13-week mind/body Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. Patients self-reported RR practice time in a questionnaire before and after the 13-week program. Similarly, data on spiritual well-being, measured by the subscale of Spiritual Growth of the Health-Promoting Lifestyle Profile II, were collected. The psychological distress levels were measured by the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised. We tested the mediation effect of spiritual well-being using regression analyses.

RESULTS: Significant increases in RR practice time (75 min/week, effect size/ES=1.05) and spiritual well-being scores (ES=0.71) were observed after participants completed the program (P<.0001). Patients also improved on measures of depression, anxiety, hostility and the global severity index with medium effect sizes (0.25 to 0.48, P<.0001). Greater increases in RR practice time were associated with enhanced spiritual well-being (beta=.08, P=.01); and enhanced spiritual well-being was associated with improvements in psychological outcomes (beta=-0.14 to -0.22, P<.0001).

CONCLUSION: Our data demonstrated a possible dose-response relationship among RR practice, spiritual and psychological well-being. Furthermore, the data support the hypothesis that spiritual well-being may serve as a pathway of how RR elicitation improves psychological outcomes. These findings might contribute to improved psychological care of cardiac patients.
Publication Date
August, 2010
Citation Information
Chang BH, Casey A, Dusek JA, Benson H. Relaxation response and spirituality: Pathways to improve psychological outcomes in cardiac rehabilitation. J Psychosom Res. 2010 Aug;69(2):93-100. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2010.01.007. PubMed PMID: 20624507.