Spirituality, defined as a way to find comfort, hope, inner peace and meaning in your life, may play a bigger role in health and healing than previously thought. The medical community can’t measure exactly how spirituality affects your health, but research shows positive beliefs, comfort and strength gained from religion, meditation and prayer can contribute to healing and a sense of well-being. Being in touch with your spirituality can make you less stressed, which reduces one risk of developing heart disease.
Spirituality and Health: A Brief History
In many healing traditions, including the early days of Western medicine, the body and the spirit were connected. But as science and technology grew, these considerations fell by the wayside. Now, however, with research that shows the body and spirit are somehow linked, the pendulum is swinging back.
Spirituality’s Influence on Health
Some spiritual practices promote a healthy lifestyle, which has a positive influence on health. One study of Seventh Day Adventists (followers are instructed not to smoke or drink alcohol) in the Netherlands found that the chance of practitioners dying from heart disease was 60 percent to 66 percent less than the national average. Researchers believe the Adventists’ healthy lifestyle contributes to the reduced risk of heart disease death.
But spirituality isn’t always about a specific religion, and all health benefits can’t be attributed to a healthy lifestyle. Some studies found that spiritual qualities and practices, such as faith, forgiveness, hope and prayer, have a beneficial effect on health. In a study of patients in coronary care units, those who were prayed for had fewer complications and death.
Spirituality, Health and the Future
Medical schools have added spiritual teachings to their curricula. And researchers are starting to study the spirituality-health connection in order to better understand how it works.