Tribune Print Share Text

Healthy faith

Created date

July 26th, 2011

I recently searched for the word spiritual on the WebMD Internet site and found 385 articles. I found 356 referencing God and 183 on religion. Such topics appear on a health care website because a growing body of evidence shows a relationship between faith and better health. It s true that only a small percentage of people are completely free of health issues as they age. But over the past decade, several scientific studies have shown a connection between faith and better health. For example, people who pray regularly have lower blood pressure on average than those who don t; people who attend religious services have a longer average lifespan and lower risk of death from heart disease, emphysema, suicide, and some cancers; people who forgive easily have higher levels of psychological well-being and less depression; and self-described very religious people report lower average levels of worry, stress, and anger.

A strong bond

How does faith improve health? The Gallup polling organization cites the interpersonal and social interaction that accompanies religious service participation, the ability of religion to provide explanations for setbacks and problems, the positive benefits of meditative states, prayer and belief in a higher power, and the focus placed on others and charitable activities by many religions. Fasting, a common practice among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, purges toxins along with temptations. Attempts to scientifically test the effect of prayer on healing have shown mixed results, but individual stories abound. Virginia Shotwell, a reader in Massachusetts, had kidney failure and was given five months to live 54 years ago and credits prayer and meditation for what she calls a miracle of faith. Marguerite Watson, a reader in Maryland, writes that after surgery for breast cancer she recovered in a matter of weeks without chemotherapy or radiation, thanks to a strong faith and faith community. Not everyone s prayer for healing is answered the way they want, but even if not, faith can bring comfort and the strength to endure. If you would like references to the studies I refer to, send an email to me at or write to me at 703 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville, MD 21228.