The month of April brings Spring, Easter, and a feeling of renewal. The themes of renewal and rebirth oftentimes overlap with religion and spirituality. Perhaps there’s no better time to talk about spirituality, religion and health than springtime. In fact, a majority of studies that have used religious and spiritual variables have found a connection between religious involvement and spirituality and better health outcomes.
The Studied Benefits between Religiosity/Spirituality and Health Outcomes
For starters, 18 prospective studies over the last three decades have shown that religiously involved people live longer.
In addition to mortality, religious involvement has shown less cardiovascular disease, less anxiety, fewer depressive symptoms, less use or abuse of alcohol and other drugs, lower blood pressure and less hypertension, and more health-promoting behaviors (i.e. more exercise, proper nutrition, more seat belt use, smoke cessation, and greater use of preventive services).
Research also suggests that our spirituality can enhance coping and quality of life during an illness as it can be a source of hope, meaning, purpose, identity, reassurance, and transcendence as well as reduce the uncertainties and anxieties of illness.
Clearly, there is evidence to suggest that being spiritual certainly helps more than harms your health.
Our Unmet Spiritual Needs
Unfortunately, surveys suggest that the spiritual needs of patients is not being met by caregivers or physicians despite a large and growing number of studies showing a direct relationship between religious involvement and spirituality and positive health outcomes, including mortality, physical illnesses, mental health, health related quality of life, and coping with or recovering from illness.
There is clearly ample evidence to support the fact that faith in a higher power is associated with positive health outcomes. Our physical health is important but can be strengthened and improved with an equal emphasis on our emotional and spiritual health. This awareness and the growing body of research will hopefully usher in a care system that considers and embraces our spiritual needs as well as our physical ones.
Sources: Forbes, Mayo Clinic Proceedings
Dr. Sonja Stilp is a physician and founder of RISE practicing in Boulder, CO. Dr. Stilp provides personalized care and global healing for the athlete in all of us. Make an appointment with her to talk about your spiritual health impacts your physical health.