Peer support good for the heart

Harvard Heart Letter


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Many people know what they need to do to keep their hearts healthy. The challenge is making changes (like exercising regularly and eating more fruits and vegetables) and sticking with them. New research suggests monthly meetings with a group of peers who offer support and encouragement can help.

The study included 543 adults with at least one risk factor for heart disease (being overweight, smoking, being physically inactive, or having high blood pressure). Half were randomly assigned to a self-management control group. The others were placed in teams of 10 for the peer-group interventions. Two peer-elected trained leaders headed each group meeting, which involved role-play, brainstorming, and activities to address emotions, diet, and exercise. The groups met for 60 to 90 minutes monthly for one year.

Over all, those in the peer-group intervention showed greater improvements than the control group as measured by a composite score that reflected beneficial changes in key risk factors. The study was published online in the Nov. 9, 2015, Journal of the American College of Cardiology.