Group therapy can promote cardiovascular health, according to study

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Healthy behaviour has been found to improve when people with cardiovascular risk factors take part in peer group support, according to a study from the Mount Sinai Hospital. The research was presented at the AHA Scientific Sessions 2015 in Orlando, Florida, and will be published simultaneously by the Journal of American College of Cardiology (JACC).

“We now have proof that peer group support also helps improve healthy behaviors in people who are at a higher risk for cardiovascular issues and has a significantly positive impact on smoking cessation,” says Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief of The Mount Sinai Hospital.

Researchers from the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Madrid, Spain, the Barcelona-based Foundation for Science, Health and Education (SHE Foundation), and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai followed 543 adults, aged 25-50, with at least one of the following cardiovascular disease risk factors: hypertension, overweight, smoking, and physical inactivity.

Over a three-month period, all participants took part in training and motivational group sessions aimed at promoting healthy lifestyle habits.

These meetings focused on motivations for change, stress management, stopping smoking, a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, and self-control of blood pressure. From this shared starting point, the participants were then divided into two groups: 277 in the peer intervention group and 266 in the control group. Over the next 12 months, the intervention group met for monthly group-therapy sessions aimed at promoting changes in attitudes and behaviour, encouraging participants to go beyond simple awareness and make tangible progress in the control of cardiovascular risk factors. The control group received individual medical check-ups during the same period.

After the training sessions at the start of the program, most participants (71%) showed an improvement in the Fuster-BEWAT index, irrespective of group assignment. The Fuster-BEWAT score is a newly developed composite score related to blood pressure, exercise, weight, body mass index, fruit and vegetable consumption and smoking.

However, at subsequent stages, significant differences appeared between the intervention and control groups. In the intervention group, 67% of participants showed an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors, compared with 56% in the control group. The results were even more positive for tobacco consumption, with almost twice as many intervention-group participants stopping smoking (39% vs. 20%). Similarly, 46% of the intervention group members increased their level of physical activity.