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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

The Health Benefits of Spirituality: A Complex Subject

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Do people who are religious or who have a nonreligious set of spiritual beliefs that guide them in their daily life have an advantage over those who don't when it comes to mental and physical well-being? A growing body of research suggests that religion and spirituality may help some people better cope with illness, depression and stress.

Although religion and spirituality may not cure illness, they can have a positive effect on your health. Several medical studies show a connection between religious beliefs or practices and a decreased risk of self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, substance abuse and suicide. Other studies suggest that people who have regular religious practices tend to live longer and may be better able to enjoy life despite health issues like chronic pain.

Several recent studies (which focus on spirituality in a religious context) suggest that spirituality has the potential to:

  • Prevent 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.
  • Boost 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.
  • Buffer against daily 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.

 

Posted in Depression and Anxiety on February 19, 2013


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


I know my comment probably won't be well received but I've never seen any measurable evidence that belief in a supernatural deity soothes anxiety or depression. Your thoughts?

Posted by: Anxiety Insider | February 2, 2013 10:55 AM

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