NATIONAL (CBS NEWSPATH) – Spirituality has been shown to have benefits for physical and mental health, and now new research shows spirituality can improve the quality of life for heart failure patients. Researchers at Duke University Hospital reviewed nearly 50 studies on the topic, including a 2017 study Duke conducted. “Incorporating aspects of spirituality actually reduced anxiety, depression,” says Dr. Robert Mentz, co-author of the review and chief of the heart failure section at Duke University Hospital.

Spirituality can be hard to define. Researchers say many describe it as how people find meaning and purpose in life, which can be separate from religious beliefs.

Duke is now developing a spirituality screening tool. “We can ask these questions about purpose, peace, and meaning. I think that opens the door to hopefully improve patient care,” Dr. Mentz says.

Pat Gerney was diagnosed with heart failure seven years ago after her daughter, a nurse, noticed a change. “I was going up the steps, and I’m very active, and she said, ‘Mom, are you short of breath?'” Gerney says.

The 73-year-old considers herself a spiritual person. Gerney says she’s a devout Catholic who prays every day, mostly for others. “I’ve just prayed and asked God for the grace and strength to get through these things and so, and I knew at that point when I was diagnosed that I was strong. Physically and in my faith,” Gerney says.

She takes medication for her conditions and says she’s grateful her faith and family bring her such comfort. “I continue to walk, and I continue to garden and just stay active. And when the grandchildren are around, chase them around,” Gerney says.

The research review also suggests that spirituality can also help support caregivers.