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Can Religion Make You Healthier?

Can Religion Make You Healthier?, religion over 50, religion in middle age
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BY STEVE WINSTON

When doctors and patients discuss medical issues these days, religion is entering the conversation with increasing frequency. Many people, of course, believe their ultimate outcomes are decided by a power higher than doctors. But many others – and, now, many doctors – believe that a healthy religious faith can actually help generate better outcomes.

“I’m an Elder Law attorney…not a doctor, or a clergy person,” says Alice Reiter Feld, a well-known South Florida attorney. “But I tell my clients that study after study has proven a connection between religious involvement and better health. So there must be something to it.”

Lester Breslow believed that, too. Breslow was a researcher who dedicated his life to understanding what makes some people live longer – and he must have found the secret, because he died last year at 97.

In 2010, Breslow co-authored the results of a study of a group of California Mormons. It showed that the life expectancy of Mormon men was almost ten years longer than that of the average American white male. And Mormon women lived between five and six years longer than other white females.

The longevity effect was most pronounced for those who never smoked, went to church weekly, had at least twelve years of education, and were married. When asked, the Mormons attributed their longevity, at least partially, to going to church.

Scientists have been studying the link between strong faith and longevity for some time. It was long assumed that religious people were most likely to practice healthy behaviors…and studies bore that out. (Let’s face it, if you’re a regular church-goer, you’re not going to party till 3 a.m. on a Saturday night!) But there’s more to it than that.

Religious reflection is often meditative in nature, and that can lower stress levels. In addition, all religions stress love, forgiveness, and hope for the future, as well as the importance of gratitude – all of which are essential for good emotional health.

“I know from experience,” says Alice Reiter Feld, “that many people with a strong religious belief or faith seem to live longer – and healthier. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But all I can say is … over 35 years of practicing Elder Law, I know what I’ve seen.”

This isn’t superstition, and it isn’t supposition. It’s been proven by scientific studies time and time again. Lester Breslow’s study – which took place over a period of 25 years, by the way – is only the latest evidence, not the only evidence.

There’s no magic bullet. And, of course, no one solution works for every single person. But if a sense of faith – or even spirituality – can enhance (and lengthen!) our lives, it’s certainly food for thought!

 

Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles have appeared in major media all over the world. 

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