Can Religion Make You Healthier?

July 22, 2021 | Jonathan Ford Hughes
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While purported health benefits are hardly a sound basis for religious beliefs and practices, and the question of religiosity’s medical effects do not lend themselves easily to scientific analysis, a number of studies have tried to measure the impact of religion on psychological and even physiological well-being. Jonathan Ford Hughes points to several that make the case that both faith and ritual can be salubrious:

The American Journal of Epidemiology surveyed a group of youths and found that those who had a more religious upbringing were 18-percent more likely to report a higher sense of happiness as young adults than those who didn’t. Those who prayed or meditated daily as children were also reported as being 16-percent happier as young adults than those who didn’t pray daily, and were 29-percent more likely to volunteer for community service.

Childhood religious upbringing was also shown to have a bearing on brain activity. In 2019, Next Avenue, a PBS-supported news resource for older Americans, reported on the neurological effects of prayer in the brain. While undergoing a brain scan, a rabbi and a researcher sang a Jewish prayer. The rabbi’s scan showed activation in areas of the brain that indicate focus and a sense of letting go. The researcher’s scan did not. Similar scans of Buddhists and nuns during meditation and prayer, respectively, found increased activity in their frontal lobes as well.

In addition, religion can also affect physical health. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, religious individuals have far fewer physical health issues than those who are not religious. This may be attributable to the fact that religious individuals are happier because of their beliefs, which has a huge influence on physical health. . . . Religion also appears to lead to a lifestyle with lower risk of venereal diseases, drug use, and early pregnancy, [and so forth], according to the American Journal of Epidemiology Study.

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