Spiritually can help you stay healthy

There have been many important churches in my life.
There was the loving, caring, large “meeting place” of my childhood, attended by my aunts and uncles. And my great-aunts and uncles, my grandmother, my parents’ cousins, and our neighbours.
Oh, how I remember the singing when the whole church came to the young people’s meeting every Sunday evening. With the windows open in the cool northern New York summer evenings, the strains of “Jesus Saves” and “Shall We Gather at the River” wafted to the world outside.
Then there were churches in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan. Some were so small that only a few pews were filled.
And one was so large that after we had attended for two years, we chose a different entrance one Sunday and found out to our amazement that my hairdresser attended the same church.
Later, there was the vibrant church in the university city of Edmonton, Alta., where my husband served as pastor. And finally, there is the cathedral-like church in a midwestern U.S. college town that has been my church for the past 45 years.
In these churches, I have been nurtured and cared for. I have found friends and have experienced spiritual growth. And more important, I have found health.
We don’t usually attend church for the purpose of becoming healthy, but researchers have found that one of the greatest healing miracles of all time is spirituality.
Hundreds of studies confirm that people of faith are healthier and less likely to die prematurely from any cause. And faith can speed recovery from physical and mental illness, surgery, and addiction.
A study at the California Public Health Foundation in Berkeley followed 5,000 people for 28 years and found that women who went to church at least once a week had a one-third less risk of dying prematurely than women who did not attend church.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital found that weekly church-goers died 50 percent less frequently from heart disease.
But the premiere studies have been headed by Dr. Harold Koenig, the director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health who has published hundreds of articles and 40 books based on his research.
His recent books include “Spirituality in Patient Care” and “Medicine, Religion and Health.”
Among Dr. Koenig’s findings are these:
•People with strong faith who suffer from physical illness have significantly better health outcomes than less religious people;
•People who attend services in a church, a synagogue, or a mosque regularly have stronger immune systems, and religion also helps them cope with stress;
•Religious faith seems to protect older people from cancer and heart disease (non-religious patients are three times more likely to die following heart surgery than their religious counterparts); and
•Religious patients recover from hip fractures and open-heart surgeries better than non-religious ones.
“We’re getting close to convincing people that religion and spirituality can help people stay healthy,” says Dr. Koenig.
So if you want to stay healthy and happy, don’t forget the spiritual component.
Why not become active in the faith tradition of your choice today?
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@cox.net

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