Does Your Religion Impact Your Health?
The question of religion and medicine is still a wide-open book. Several studies have shown that people with strong religious or spiritual beliefs live longer, heal better after surgery, have lower blood pressure and are better able to cope with chronic conditions. What is not yet clear is the reason. Some experts say it could be related to the healthier lifestyle a structured religion provides. People with a religious affiliation tend to drink less, smoke less, and have a stronger support community with positive influences. Other researchers believe that it is simply the faith and attitude associated with a spiritual person that holds the key to influencing health.
Since the influence of religion on health is being more openly discussed in the medical world, more research is under way to establish a solid explanation. Many consider the study of religion and health to be at a critical juncture. With religion having a positive impact on health, it is a clear opportunity to reduce the rising costs of healthcare. With businesses and health insurance carriers using incentives to reward activities related to less use of healthcare dollars – such as non smoker incentives and preventive health screenings – it may be financially beneficial to pay more attention to the connection to spirituality and lower health care cost.
One study suggests that religious information could be helpful to health care professionals when dealing with patients. The controversial question here is, “What role does a health care professional play?” With the many different religious beliefs how does a medical professional effectively and ethically counsel patients? This can be a very dangerous and sensitive area to tread. Although highly controversial, many feel that this positive effect of religion is simply too strong to ignore.
In a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center it was found that nearly 80% of Americans practice some type of religious belief and the number of Americans who do not practice any religious practice is growing at a rapid rate. Religion is thought to be empowering and thought to be useful in medical practices through The Power of Positive Thinking. This power brings meaning and purpose, a sense of self-esteem, and gives emotional support. During stressful times we often turn to our faith as a source of solace and support. This is particularly true amoung older adults. Prayer or meditation has shown to reorient our thought process in regard to pain or a medical condition. Although it may not actually reduce the severity of the situation, it often can make it more bearable by changing the way we think about it. Putting people in social environments where support is strong encourages positive emotions - and positive emotions are strongly connected to positive health outcomes.
The down side of religion and medical practices is the fear that some will replace necessary medical care with “prayer”. Experts also fear the religious beliefs of some could be harmful if they encourage excessive guilt or fear creating a lower self esteem. It is also feared that we are about to overstep the boundary between medicine / medical science and religious beliefs.
In summary, many religious and spiritual practices universally teach love, hope, forgiveness, and optimism - therefore improving coping skills and the social support to foster a positive outlook and healthier behavior. A religious or spiritual format provides an effective social control over a healthier lifestyle and provides support and comfort. Improving your spiritual health may not cure your illness but it may help you feel better, cope better, and prevent other stress related health issues.
Religion and Seniors - Keeping the Faith
- If your loved one is shut in, make an effort to find ways for him or her to continue life-long religious practices - by asking clergy to come visit or finding religious tv programming for example.
- Some seniors struggle with their religious beliefs when they face terminal illness or death of their spouses and friends. Talking with them about spiritual matters at this time can be comforting. Remember to not make assumptions about their religious views or how they are feeling.
- You can ask your loved one to share his or her religious views and wisdom learned with you. This can be a great way to connect and bond as well as a way to help him or her consider their religious views.