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Religion and Health
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Individuals who have a meaningful religious experience and attend church regularly are reported to have fewer health problems. In addition, they are more likely to recover faster from an illness, have better surgical outcomes, spend less time in the hospital, and have a lower blood pressure than those with no religious inclination. Further-more, a belief that the body is the temple of God will encourage a person to develop a healthier lifestyle.

Religious belief can also affect health outcomes. In heart patients, E.L. Morris observed that those who scored the lowest on a spiritual well-being questionnaire experienced the most progression of coronary blockage over four years, while those with the highest scores of spiritual well-being had the most regression of heart disease. In patients recently diagnosed with HIV infection, an increased level of spirituality of the patient predicted a slower progression of the disease.

Help People Cope

Religious belief, prayer, and meditation may also be important strategies that help people cope with a medical illness or handle a major stress in their life, rather than turning to negative health behaviors. Religious belief provides a person with an optimistic worldview, infusing purpose and meaning into difficult life situations.

In a recent review of 850 studies on the relationship between religion and mental health, the majority of the studies revealed that higher levels of religious involvement were positively associated with indicators of better mental health and psychological well-being, such as satisfaction with life, happiness, positive outlook, and higher morale, along with reduced likelihood of depression. The positive impact of religious involvement on mental health was seen to be more robust among those under stressful circumstances, such as persons with a disability or medical illness.

In a study involving 838 hospitalized older patients, the religious activities, attitudes, and spiritual experiences of the patients were associated with better psychological health, cognitive functioning, less severe illness, and greater social support. The social support enables one to be more resilient in adversity and better cope with life’s problems.

Frequent attendance at religious services has been shown repeatedly to increase the chance of survival in the elderly. Religious attendance at least once a week was associated with a 23 percent reduced likelihood of dying during a 28-year period. Overall, those who regularly attend church live seven to eight years longer than those who never attend.

In a 16-year study comparing the survival of 4,000 Israeli inhabitants who were members of either religious kibbutzim or matched secular kibbutzim, it was found that the likelihood of dying was almost twice the level among the members of the secular communities compared to that of the religious communities.

Scientists are discovering that what people think, believe, and feel may have a direct impact on neuroendocrine and immune function. These two systems play an important role in fighting disease and speeding recovery from illness.

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By Winston J. Craig. Reprinted with permission from the Lake Union Herald, Febuary 2007. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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