How much of a role can religion or spirituality have on your health? When it comes to physical health, there are no significant findings. However, when it comes to mental and emotional health, there are benefits in beating depression, shortening hospital stays, and overcoming alcohol or substance abuse. The article below discusses the health benefits of religion.
Interestingly though, there are also negative effects. A study published showed that people who attend religious services were more likely to be obese. In addition, another study found that just changing churches may be harmful to your health. This article specifically mentions the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witness.
Going to church doesn’t guarantee you a disease-free life, and praying for someone won’t always make them get better faster.But there’s growing evidence religion and spirituality are good for your health, several local health experts said.
“Absolutely, there’s a link between people’s grounding in religious or spiritual feelings and their wellness,” said Tom McGovern, professor of psychiatry at Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center.
McGovern broached the topic recently at the Health Sciences Center’s Community Medical School, a series of lectures presented to the public by distinguished faculty.
People use their spirituality to navigate life, McGovern told his audience of about 100. Religious people cope better under stress, heal faster from their illnesses and experience benefits to their mental health, he said.
“If a person’s community is built around a religious or spiritual quest, that can be a powerful mediator of healing,” McGovern said.
More than 90 percent of McGovern’s audience believed religion and spirituality are beneficial to their health, according to interactive responses collected and displayed at the talk. Ninety-three percent of the audience said prayer or meditation helped them reduce stress.
Despite the role of spirituality in wellness, many health care providers are still reluctant to incorporate it into care, said McGovern. The professor directs a humanities and ethics committee at the Health Sciences Center and helps medics develop a sensitivity to patients’ beliefs.
That’s because medical professionals — often seen as an authority — might fear inflicting their own beliefs on patients, said Sharmila Dissanaike, an assistant professor of surgery at the Health Sciences Center.
“I don’t think the topic has been avoided, it just hasn’t been brought to the forefront,” she said. “Physicians are unsure about whether they are overstepping the boundaries.”
Scientific studies looking for a link between health and religion show mixed results, said Stephen Cook, director of Tech’s Psychology Clinic and a researcher on spirituality and health.
“A lot of times there are no significant findings between religion and physical health,” Cook said.
But recent studies, particularly on mental and emotional health, have shown benefits of religion and spirituality, he said. Scientific research has shown its benefits in beating depression, shortening hospital stays, and kicking alcohol or substance abuse, Cook said.
There are fewer links between spirituality and a person’s physical wellbeing, Cook said. But studies have shown a link between attending religious services and living longer, and Harold Koenig, a Duke University doctor and researcher, found elderly people who rarely or never attended church had a stroke rate double that of regular attendees.
It’s easy to pass such benefits off on lifestyle differences, Cook said, but many studies have controlled for factors like smoking and drinking and still show the benefits of spirituality.
Several factors help explain why a person’s beliefs might impact their health outcomes, the experts said.
“A lot of it is because of the social support system it provides,” Dissanaike said. Such a system can provide strength, nurturing and other coping strategies such as self-efficacy and self-esteem, Cook said.
The support of a “higher power” might also help, the researchers said. While some studies measured religiousness by church attendance, recent studies have shown the health benefits might come when a person collaborates — or draws support — from a higher being.
“At least with mental health, more cooperative types of religious coping — when you’re in collaboration to deal with a problem — tend to have better outcomes,” Cook said.
As for the physical health benefits, behaviors associated with religious people — such as drinking less and having fewer sexual partners — might contribute to some of the health benefits, Cook said.