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The Impact of Faith on Our Health

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Prayer really does make a difference.

It probably won’t come as any surprise to believers, but researchers are now concluding that belief in God has a positive impact on our mental and physical health.

Although researchers don’t go so far as to say that belief cures illness, the fact that it gives believers a way of coping with and or preventing mental and physical illness is measurable. The conclusion is that religious people or even those who have a nonreligious set of spiritual beliefs that guide them in their daily lives have an advantage over those who don’t.

The advantages believers have over unbelievers are associated with a decreased risk of self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, substance abuse and suicide as well has a greater ability to handle and overcome health challenges. In addition, studies suggest that believers tend to live longer and are better able to enjoy life despite chronic health issues.

Recent studies which focus on spirituality in a religious context suggest that believers have an advantage over others in the following areas: 

  • Depression. In a study of more than 92,500 postmenopausal women, those who reported attending religious services were 56 percent more likely to view life positively and 27 percent less likely to have symptoms of depression than women who didn't attend services. The study appeared in the May 2012 Journal of Religion and Health.
  • Mental health. Comparing 160 people from different faiths -- Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists -- researchers found that increased religious spirituality was significantly linked to better mental health, specifically extroversion and decreased neuroticism, regardless of religious affiliation. The study authors noted in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of Religion and Health that being religious appears to decrease people's sense of self in a positive way, leaving them to feel more connected with the world.
  • Stress. Everyday religious experiences help people better cope with everyday stress, say researchers after studying 244 older adults ages 55 to 80. They reported in the Journal of Gerontology last year that being religious protects against the negative impact of daily stressors. It's unclear how religious involvement -- or involvement in spiritual practices such as meditation -- bolsters health. Some experts say belief in a loving God may directly influence health. Others suggest that spirituality or religious involvement promotes healthier habits, a positive outlook, altruism, better coping strategies in the face of adverse health events and increased social support through group membership and congregation.

Believers, especially those who are actively involved in a church may wonder why this is news. The benefits of a loving church family are obvious to those of us who have experienced the love and support of a group of people praying for us when we are ill or grieving. It is encouraging that the medical and scientific community is “catching up” with the religious community.

 Imagine the benefits to society if science, medicine and praying believers all worked together to treat and heal patients and even to find solutions to some of medicine’s greatest challenges. 

Resource:  Johns Hopkins research