Several recent studies (which focus on spirituality in a religious context) suggest that spirituality has the potential to:

  • Prevent depression. In a study of more than 92,500 postmenopausal women, those who reported attending religious services were 56 percent more likely to view life positively and 27 percent less likely to have symptoms of depression than women who didn't attend services. The study appeared in the May 2012 Journal of Religion and Health.
  • Boost mental health. Comparing 160 people from different faiths—Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists—researchers found that increased religious spirituality was significantly linked to better mental health, specifically extroversion and decreased neuroticism, regardless of religious affiliation. The study authors noted in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of Religion and Health that being religious appears to decrease people's sense of self in a positive way, leaving them to feel more connected with the world.
  • Buffer against daily stress. Everyday religious experiences help people better cope with everyday stress, say researchers after studying 244 older adults ages 55 to 80. They reported in the Journal of Gerontology in 2011 that being religious protects against the negative impact of daily stressors.

It's unclear how religious involvement—or involvement in spiritual practices such as meditation—bolsters health. Some experts say belief in a loving God may directly influence health. Others suggest that spirituality or religious involvement promotes healthier habits, a positive outlook, altruism, better coping strategies in the face of adverse health events and increased social support through group membership and congregation.

"Spiritual" Advice

If you're interested in improving your spiritual health, try these suggestions from the American Academy of Family Physicians:

  • Identify the things in your life that give you a sense of inner peace, love, strength or connection to others or a higher power.
  • Set aside time each day to do the things that help you spiritually, which can range from attending religious services, praying, meditating or doing yoga to reading a chapter of your favorite inspirational book or taking a nature walk.
  • Engage in community activities and volunteer work.

Also try practicing forgiveness, says one study. The willingness to forgive others is associated with better mental health, likely a result of having higher self-esteem, greater satisfaction with life, and less anger, depression and anxiety, according to past and current research.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 27 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 15 Aug 2013