Impact of Religiosity on Health

Taking an introspective look into society, what can be construed is that religion plays an integral role in one’s life in many facet. Religion shapes an individual’s morals and values, affects perspective, and impacts how an individual interacts with others in society. Unfortunately, we see major religious clashes worldwide and vile hatred towards each other. This may be due to a lack of a fundamental understanding for other religions and how each religion plays a specific role in the life of its followers.  

 “Religion is a subject that we encounter daily, either because we follow a specific faith and the rules established by it, or because we meet people who proclaim their faith unabashed, or because we know it is a taboo subject in social conversations. It is probably better to ask someone how much they earn, or about their health history, then to ask them to what religion they practice” (1)

With this unspoken sensitivity to one’s religion, we often overlook the impact religion has on our health. Whether you're an avid church goer or attend only on religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas, there seems to be a correlation with better mental health just by being involved in one aspect or another.

“In fact, studies do suggest that religious beliefs and practices contribute to positive emotions such as well being, life satisfaction, and happiness. In a recent  systemic review of the scientific literature that uncovered 100 studies of this relationship, 79% reported a significant positive association between religious involvement and greater well-being (Koenig, McCullough, et al., 2001). Among 10 prospective cohort studies, 9 found that greater religious beliefs or activity predicted greater well-being over time. Thus, the evidence overwhelmingly supports a connection between religious involvement and positive emotions” (2).

Not only does partaking in religious activities have an overall positive effect on mental health, data suggests by being active in your religion and spirituality you are influencing your physical health in a positive manner as well.

“Of particular interest is the relationship between religious involvement and physical health. This relationship is most evident in studies that examine the effects of religious activities on morality and survival.  Since 1993, 13 published studies examined the relationship between relationship activity and longevity. Twelve of these studies report significant relationship between greater religious involvement and longer survival. (Jews. Goldbourt et al. 1993).

Religious involvement also plays a factor in preventing risk behaviors such as alcoholism, narcotic use, and unprotected sex. These type of behaviors are accurately labeled risk behaviors because they affect both physical and mental health especially when these behaviors become an addiction. The commitments made to religion promote discipline and moderation of these potentially detrimental behaviors which ultimately improve one’s health.

  “Religious involvement has been involved with lower rates of alcoholism, drug use, cigarette smoking, risky sexual activity, failure to wear seat belts, drinking while driving, and other hazardous activities. The fact that health behaviors may explain some of the association between religion and health should not minimize or explain away the important of religion itself. These health behaviors are “belief-based “behaviors dependent on the religious beliefs of the person; in other  words, the reason the religious persons drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, have sex outside marriage less often, and so on is probably because of the belief and personal commitments to those belief.” (2)

 “In our review of the literature, we found 138 studies that had examined the relationship between alcohol or drug use or abuse and religiousness (Koenig, McCullough, et al.. 2001). Of those studies, 124 (90%) reported significantly lower substance use among the more religious. The vast majority of these  studies that were conducted in adolescents or college students—young persons just starting out their lives. The fact religious involvement prevents risky behaviors in adolescents and young adulthood is important because it is at this time when such behaviors become established, and young adulthood behaviors                   are likely to adversely influence health throughout the life span.” (2)  

Clearly depicted, the health benefits of maintaining religious beliefs are quite apparent. The research that has been conducted over decades has shown to improve mental health with emotional processing and general well being and physical health with prevention of certain diseases. While religion and spirituality may not be the direct cause for prevention of risky behaviors, the individuals that participate in them tend to stay away from these behaviors because it is morally just for them and falls within the parameters of the law of their respective religions. Healthy choices can be made without the influence of religiosity and spirituality, but they are a good structural influence that can lead you in the right direction.

Sources:

1.     ”The Influence of Religion on Health." <i>RSS</i>. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

2.     "The Link between Religion and Health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor." <i>Google Books</i>. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

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