Thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Florida State University will collaborate with six host churches and 32 partner churches in Gadsen and Leon counties to see how integrating proven health intervention strategies into church members’ lives each day can improve their overall heart health.

The initiative is funded by a three-year grant and is called the Health for Hearts United Leadership Institute, or HHU Lead Project for short. Essentially, the project will study and combat cardiovascular disease in the African-American community by encouraging congregation members to adopt healthy lifestyle practices such as eating healthy foods (especially fruits and vegetables), exercising regularly, reducing stress and taking charge of one’s own overall health care strategies.

The HHU Lead Project follows up on a five-year NIH study called the Health for Hearts United intervention. That study similarly integrated healthy lifestyle practices within the six host churches while tracking about 250 men and women age 45 and older during a two-year period.

Experts said preliminary outcomes of the small-scale project already show that participants ate more fruits and vegetables, decreased fat consumption and became more physically active. These lifestyle changes also improved cholesterol levels and weight loss.

The new study aims to add to those research findings by bringing more churches and members into the program over time. Researchers said they also plan on using the NIH funds to help maintain the HHU institute.

Studies show cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both black men and women in the United States. In addition, African Americans have higher illness and death rates for both heart disease and stroke than their Caucasian counterparts.

For more information on how to get involved with the HHU Lead Project in Florida, click here.