There Are Three important aspects of life that we tend to seek and develop separately. However, they are synergistically linked – improvements in one area can help us in the other areas as well.
The next several blogs will explore faith, love, and health and their interrelationships.
Faith has benefits on both our physical and mental health. Let’s start with some of the physical benefits:
- Increased life expectancy by up to 2-8 years 1
- Reduced incidence of meningitis2
- Reduced alcohol abuse3
- Reduced drug abuse4
- Involvement in religion (prayer and attending church) lowers blood pressure5
- Better quality of life in terminal cancer patients6
- Decrease in coronary disease (heart attacks)7
- Lower rates of smoking8
- Lower rates of teenage pregnancy 9
The majority of these studies10 look at the benefits of regular religious attendance, which can be defined as weekly church visits. So, from a pure numbers standpoint, is going to church worth it? Well, if you go to church routinely, then let’s assume you spend 2 hours every week, for 50 weeks a year gives us 100 hours a year spent on church services (this could be more if your clergy is extremely long-winded). If the average life is about 80 years, then 80 times 100 gives us 8000 hours over a lifetime as a ballpark figure for us to spend going to church. There are 8760 actual hours in a year. That means that if you attend church regularly, then you spend about a year of your life going to church.
Therefore, if we spend a year of our life going to church, and as a result we gain an extra 2-8 years of life expectancy, then from a pure numbers standpoint, going to church was worth it. If this had been an investment of money, and the result doubled your investment, then most of us would make that investment.
Another way of examining this is to compare church attendance to other health improvement options, such as lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and exercise. Various studies have shown that lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and exercise increases life expectancy by months to a few years – on par with regular church attendance. If we look at potential cancer treatments, we are generally happy with any treatment that gives us this much added time. I’ve never prescribed going to church every week, but perhaps I should start (I just have to double check that it’s FDA approved!)
While the lifestyle benefits, such as decreased substance abuse, can be accomplished without religion, this wouldn’t explain the improved quality of life for cancer patients. Future blogs will demonstrate other benefits that are not just attributable to lifestyle. There’s also nothing wrong with how church encourages better lifestyles. We have to admit that we are people, and people clearly do better with some discipline in our lives:
-Armies are much better if they are disciplined
-Schools run much better if they have discipline
-Workplaces are more successful if they have some discipline
God gave the Jewish people laws to follow putting discipline in their lives. Their history teaches us that they always did better when they maintained that discipline. We no longer follow all of the Jewish laws (except for the 10 commandments-hopefully) but we certainly can argue that God gave us the church, and attending church puts some discipline in our lives, benefitting us.
Church attendance helps us maintain healthy lifestyles, but it also helps us recover from unhealthy lifestyles. For instance, in regards to drug abuse, we should look at the program Teen Challenge, which treats teenage and adult drug addicts.
Teen Challenge is a faith based program geared to put Christ into the life of the addict. Their success rate has been reported as 86%10, a phenomenal number as addiction is extremely difficult to overcome (typical success rates are less than 50%11). Faith is key to improving not only the health, but also the quality of life of these people.
Finally, another aspect of religion that I’d like to briefly touch on is coping with pain.
Pain relief can come in one of two ways. First, we can pray for healing and we are healed. Probably many readers have either experienced such a miracle themselves or know someone who was healed in this way (or perhaps someone else prayed over them which resulted in healing). Not only is such an event health-giving but it is truly faith building as well. If you don’t know of an example, I encourage you to ask around at your church and I’ll bet you find someone who can inspire you.
The second way that pain can be relieved is by putting your mind in a spiritual place. If you focus your mind, thoughts, and prayers on God, your pain level will be lessened. I have experienced this on a personal level and discuss it in The Greatest Ordeal (soon to be released).
Next week, we will discuss the benefits of faith on mental health.
- J. Robert Subrick, “The Life and Death Implications of Religious Subsidies: A Cross Country Analysis”, Dept. of Economics, James Madison University, October 2010.
- Teresa Neumann, “Researchers find Huge Health Benefits in the Christian Faith”, May 2, 2011: Ariel R. Rey – The Christian Post.
- John Gartner, David B. Larson , and George Allen, “Religious Commitment and Mental Health: A Review of the Empirical Literature”, Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol. 19, Issue 1 (Spring 1991), pp.6-25.
- Barbara R. Lorch and Robert H. Hughes, “Religion and Youth Substance Use”, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Sept. 1985), pp.197 – 208.
- Charlene Laino, “Spirituality May Help Blood Pressure: Study Shows People Who Engage in Religious Activities Have Lower Blood Pressure”, Web MD Health News, May 18, 2006.
- Tracy Anne Balboni et. al, “Provision of Spiritual Care to Patients with Advanced Cancer: Associations with Medical Care and Quality of Life Near Death”, J. Clin Oncology, 2010, Jan 20:28(3):445-52.
- E.L. Morris, “The Relationship of Spirituality to Coronary Heart Disease”, Altern. Ther Health Med, 2001, Sept. – Oct. 7(5):96-8.
- Harold G. Koenig, et. al, “The Relationship Between Religious Activities and Cigarette Smoking in Older Adults”, Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, Vol. 53A, Issue 6 (Nov. 1998), pp M 426-434.
- Michael J. Donahue, “Aggregate Religiousness and Teenage Fertility Revisited: Reanalysis of Data from the Guttmacher Institute”, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Chicago, October 30, 1988.
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