Why religion makes us healthier

Religion can make us better human beings as well as better members of our community....

We can all think of why religion can make us better human beings as well as better members of our community. More recently the scientific community is exploring the impact religion has on our health, with some interesting findings.

Health professionals have long noticed that people with the same disease, have vastly different experiences of it. For some individuals, their faith or spirituality provides them with meaning which can transcend their illness.

7 reasons religion can be good for your health

  1. Religion is a source of optimism

Religion can be a source of optimism and hope for us. Research indicates that positive attitudes are good for our health, for example, people who are optimistic about their chances of recovery from diseases tend to have a higher chance of recovery than those who are not1. This is thought to be because they are less stressed by disease symptoms and so their bodies have more resources to fight disease.

  1. Religion promotes feelings of belonging

We are social animals and it's well-known that being part of a supportive, positive social community is one of the best things we can do for our health. Research has shown increased breast cancer survival rates for women who are part of a close-knit community such as a religious community compared to those who are not2

  1. Religion can boost self-esteem

Self-esteem has been shown to be another predictor of good physical health. We gain self-esteem from feeling that we are of value. Religion can offer a strong and consistent sense of self-worth because many religious traditions assert that God, like a good parent, loves and values us no matter what we do3. Many other sources of self-esteem (e.g., beauty, success, popularity) are not so stable.

  1. Religion can reduce your risk of depression

Research has tied religious beliefs with positive outcomes for mental health. One study found that being religious served as a buffer against depression among people in poorer health, with the highest levels of depression observed among those who were in poor health and not religous4.

  1. Religion can help us cope with stress

People who are more involved in religious practices and who are more religiously committed appear to cope better with stress5. One of the reasons may be because religion gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and this helps us to make sense of negative things that happen. From a practical standpoint, our religious community can also provide support and encouragement through hard times.

  1. Religion and the brain

Studies on the brains of religious people may also provide an explanation for the link between religion and mental-health benefits. Studies suggest that meditation, and meditative prayer (such as prayer that repeats a particular phrase), activate areas of the brain involved in regulating emotional responses, including the frontal lobes.6

Strengthening these areas of the brain may help us be calmer and less reactionary.

Some religions also advocate that members stay away from high-risk health behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or overindulging in food. Steering away from these unhealthy behaviors is also beneficial for body & brain health.

7. A longer life

Finally, attending religious services more than once a week has been linked to a longer life7. In one study it added in an additional seven years of life for those who went twice a week or more every week compared to those who never attend. This is thought to be due to the many social benefits of a religious community.

A Warning

Religion can be a source of strength and community with numerous health benefits. However, there is a counter argument, when religious practices are critical, punitive and the harsh, it seems to have the opposite effect on our health and can actually be bad for us.

“If you can't see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” - Yogi Bhajan

References

  1. http://catholicexchange.com/got-optimism-studies-point-to-the-source
  2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9667295/Friends-and-family-boost-breast-cancer-survival.html
  3. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27520925?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  4. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0164027504270483
  5. https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/03/21/spirituality-and-prayer-relieve-stress/
  6. http://www.livescience.com/20920-mindfulness-meditation-health-benefits.html
  7. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2648114?seq=1#fndtn-page_scan_tab_contents
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