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Heart Patients Benefit from Spiritual Retreats


Patients with severe heart trouble often feel sad or depressed the stress from these emotions, if left unmanaged, can lead to high blood pressure, arterial damage, irregular heart rhythms and a weakened immune system. Researchers with the University of Michigan Health System have found that heart patients who attend a non-denominational spiritual retreat can become less depressed and more hopeful about the future.

Spiritual Retreats Can Restore Feelings of Well-Being

Dr. Sara Warber MD, an associate professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School compared patients with acute coronary syndrome attending one of two types of retreats to patients receiving standard cardiac care. One retreat focused on lifestyle change including nutrition, physical exercise, and stress management. The other retreat included techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, drumming, journal writing, and outdoor activities.

The study used standard mental and physical benchmarks to assess the success of the program, such as the Beck Depression Inventory and the State Hope Scale. Those attending the spiritual retreat saw immediate improvements in depression and hopefulness measurements, which persisted at three- and six-month follow-up evaluations.

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On the Beck Depression Inventory, patients attending the spiritual retreat went from a baseline score of 12, indicating mild to moderate depression, to an improved score of 6. Comparatively, those attending the lifestyle retreat began at a score of 11 and dropped to a score of 7 while the control group score started at 8 and decreased to 6.

For the scores on the State Hope Scale, all groups started between 34 and 36 at baseline. The spiritual retreat group increased to a score of 40 and above – 48 is the high score indicating greater hope - while the other two groups remained significantly lower.

The four-day spiritual retreat was conducted at the Windrise Retreat Center in Metamora, Michigan which is about 50 miles north of Detroit. The program “Medicine for the Earth” was founded by study co-author Sandra Ingeman MA and emphasizes principles of love, harmony, beauty, unity and peace.

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“The study shows that a spiritual retreat like the Medicine for the Earth program can jumpstart and help to maintain a return to psycho-spiritual well-being,” says Dr. Warber. “These types of interventions may be of particular interest to patients who do not want to take antidepressants for the depression symptoms that often accompany coronary heart disease and heart attack.”

Journal Reference:
“Healing the Heart: A Randomized Pilot Study of a Spiritual Retreat for Depression in Acute Coronary Syndrome Patients,” Sara L. Warber, MD, Sandra Ingerman, MA, et al. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing Volume 7, Issue 4 , Pages 222-233, July 2011