Research has linked attendance at a house of worship to longer life expectancy. For a study published in the journal Demography, volunteers who attended church once a week had an average life expectancy that was seven years longer than those who did not attend church.
Involvement with a church, synagogue, or other house of worship can improve mood, health, and life expectancy through the social support from the congregation.
But merely having faith in a higher power may also have a positive impact on health.
Investigators at Bowling Green State University in Ohio conducted a study of nearly 600 medical patients and found that those who believed in God had a 30 percent lower mortality rate than atheists.
Science has not documented that faith can heal such things as serious injuries, acute diseases, or cancer. But when faced with major illness, some people find that prayer helps them remain healthy.
Dr. Harold Koenig and his colleagues at Duke University found that religious or spiritually inclined patients had better social support, less depression, and higher cognitive function than those who were less religious or spiritual.
While many people pursue spirituality through organized religion, that is not the only path to spirituality. Other worthy spiritual pursuits include practicing meditation, communing with nature, and listening to or playing music.
In fact, many forms of art can satisfy a person’s spiritual need — and any form of spirituality can reduce stress levels and even extend life expectancy.
Research on meditation has shown that it can improve the function of the brain and the immune system, as well as the response to stress, while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
Meditation can also lead to a more positive outlook, especially in people who are distracted or are multitaskers.
Scientists have been able to pinpoint specific brain areas activated during prayer. A network of regions including the frontal lobe (thinking brain) and limbic system (emotional brain) are engaged.
But different spiritual practices yield distinct brain activity patterns. For example, meditation often increases frontal lobe function, while trance practices diminish frontal activity.
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