Increased psychosocial resilience, which captures a sense of purpose, optimism, and life-coping strategies, correlates with improved cardiovascular (CV) health in Black Americans, according to a study that might hold a key for identifying new strategies for CV disease prevention.
“Our findings highlight the importance of individual psychosocial factors that promote cardiovascular health among Black adults, traditionally considered to be a high-risk population,” according to a team of authors collaborating on a study produced by the Morehouse-Emory Cardiovascular Center for Health Equity in Atlanta.
Studies associating psychosocial resilience with improved health outcomes have been published before. In a 12-study review of this concept, it was emphasized that resilience is a dynamic process, not a personality trait, and has shown promise as a target of efforts to relieve the burden of disease (Johnston MC et al. Psychosomatics 2015;56:168-80).
In this study, which received partial support from the American Heart Association, psychosocial resilience was evaluated at both the individual level and at the community level among 389 Black adults living in Atlanta. The senior author was Tené T. Lewis, PhD, of the department of epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health (Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes 2020 Oct 7;13:3006638).
Psychosocial resilience was calculated across the domains of environmental mastery, purpose of life, optimism, coping, and lack of depression with standardized tests, such as the Life Orientation Test-Revised questionnaire for optimism and the Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-Being for the domains of environmental mastery and purpose of life. A composite score for psychosocial resilience was reached by calculating the median score across the measured domains.
Patients with high psychosocial resilience, defined as a composite score above the median, or low resilience, defined as a lower score, were then compared for CV health based on the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 (LS7) score.
LS7 scores incorporate measures for exercise, diet, smoking history, blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, and body mass index. Composite LS7 scores range from 0 to 14. Prior work cited by the authors have associated each 1-unit increase in LS7 score with a 13% lower risk of CVD.
As a continuous variable for CV risk at the individual level, each higher standard-deviation increment in the composite psychosocial resilience score was associated with a highly significant 0.42-point increase in LS7 score (P < .001) for study participants. In other words, increasing resilience predicted lower CV risk scores.
Resilience was also calculated at the community level by looking at census tract-level rates of CV mortality and morbidity relative to socioeconomic status. Again, high CV resilience, defined as scores above the median, were compared with lower scores across neighborhoods with similar median household income. As a continuous variable in this analysis, each higher standard-deviation increment in the resilience score was associated with a 0.27-point increase in LS7 score (P = .01).
After adjustment for sociodemographic factors, the association between psychosocial resilience and CV health remained significant for both the individual and community calculations, according to the authors. When examined jointly, high individual psychosocial resilience remained independently associated with improved CV health, but living in a high-resilience neighborhood was not an independent predictor.
When evaluated individually, each of the domains in the psychosocial resistance score were positively correlated with higher LS7 scores, meaning lower CV risk. The strongest associations on a statistical level were low depressive symptoms (P = .001), environmental mastery (P = .006), and purpose in life (P = .009).
The impact of high psychosocial resistance scores was greatest in Black adults living in low-resilience neighborhoods. Among these subjects, high resilience was associated with a nearly 1-point increase in LS7 score relative to low resilience (8.38 vs. 7.42). This was unexpected, but it “is consistent with some broader conceptual literature that posits that individual psychosocial resilience matters more under conditions of adversity,” the authors reported.