Associations of religious and existential variables with psychosocial factors and biomarkers of cardiovascular risk in bereavement

Roman Palitsky, Zhuo Job Chen, Kelly E. Rentscher, Sydney E. Friedman, Da' Mere T. Wilson, John M. Ruiz, Daniel Sullivan, George H. Grant, Mary Frances O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Bereavement increases in prevalence as people age and is associated with multiple psychological and health risks, including cardiovascular risk. Religious and existential variables may play an important role in the health impacts of bereavement. Theorized pathways linking religious and existential variables with health have suggested these associations are due to intermediary psychosocial variables, but have not been tested in bereavement. This research empirically tested these pathways in a bereaved population. In N = 73 adults within 1 year of bereavement (mean age = 64.36), this study examined associations between (1) religious and existential characteristics (religious and spiritual struggles, intrinsic religiosity, and existential quest) and intermediary psychosocial variables (depression, loneliness, and difficulties in emotion regulation), and between (2) intermediary psychosocial variables and bereavement-relevant health outcomes (self-reported health, change in health since last year, grief severity, and cardiovascular biomarkers). Cardiovascular biomarkers (heart rate, heart rate variability, and blood pressure) were collected before, during, and after a laboratory grief recall emotion elicitation. Anticipated associations between self-reported religious and existential characteristics and intermediary variables, and between intermediary variables and self-reported bereavement-relevant outcomes, were consistently observed. However, associations between intermediary variables and cardiovascular biomarkers were largely unobserved. This study examined the role of religious and existential variables in whole-person health after bereavement and is among the first to include biomarkers of cardiovascular risk. Results suggest that although religious and existential variables are associated with important bereavement-related outcomes, these associations may be “skin-deep,” and extensions to cardiovascular functioning should be re-examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14014
JournalAging Cell
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • bereavement
  • cardiovascular risk
  • psychosocial factors
  • religion
  • spirituality
  • whole-person health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cell Biology


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