The necessity of religion has probably never been questioned as much as it has been in the 21st century. For the majority of humanity’s time on Earth, the existence of God(s) was as a given, but the movement that’s come to be known as —the push backed by “” of , , and —has been focusing on one burning question: Why be religious at all?
As it turns out, there are many reasons religion has survived since humankind’s inception. Sure, parents pass their religion on to their children and hey, there’s a good chance that spirituality . But there’s another reason that might have slipped past our radar: Religion can be healthy.
The Religious Habit—Physical Benefits
The effect religion will have on a person’s health depends entirely on how profoundly it changes his or her life, but there are links between heightened religiosity and better physical health.
One of the most clear-cut examples can be found in the relationship between faith and mind-altering substances. While are tolerant of sipping some wine with dinner, religions tend to see excessive intoxication as an easy route to immorality and a way to fog the connection between humans and God. The dictum to not go overboard seems to work fairly well: Studies have shown that, regardless of which faith is being followed, simply being religious carries a and might even help people to resist unhealthy food . Kendler KS1, Gardner CO, Prescott CA. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1997 Mar;154(3):322-9. . Miller L, Davies M, Greenwald S. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2000 Sep;39(9):1190-7. . Laurin K, Kay AC, et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2012 Jan;102(1):4-21..
Being religious carries a lower risk of substance abuse and might even help people resist unhealthy food.
For those who do manage to stick to a restrictive lifestyle, the payouts can be significant. For instance, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known as the Mormon Church) of alcohol, tobacco, most drugs, and even caffeine (they’re also advised to once a month). The result? A 25-year study of Californian Mormons showed they live than non-Mormons, and the difference is most pronounced among those who are strictest with abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes.
Of course, it’s the abstaining, rather than God, that’s keeping believers healthy, but the religious motivation is noteworthy. It can be challenging to consistently say “no, thanks” with willpower alone, so to believe that one’s God supports the choice to lead a less indulgent life.
There was no difference between different religions in terms of health benefits.
Even those who imbibe now and again may reap physical benefits from practicing religion. One study of Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians found that following any of those faiths can speed and injury—particularly among those whose religion provides them with “strong congregational support” (the community aspect is important here; more on that later) . Johnstone B, Yoon DP, et al.Journal of Religion and Health, 2012 Dec;51(4):1017-41.. The study’s authors that there was no difference between the religions in terms of health benefits, and they suggest that spirituality is really a personality trait that helps people cope with stress and —y’know, all those “What’s the point of it all?” questions.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy—The Mental Benefits
Speaking of existential anxiety: What's the effect of religion on mental health? Well, not only are religious folk , they’re also to recover from depression Blazer D. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2012 Jan;169(1):10-2. . Dervic K, Oquendo MA, et al. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2004 Dec;161(12):2303-8.. Now, whether or not religion itself helps prevent depression is a matter of , but some research has shown that people are to suffer from the condition if they regularly .
Attending services and being involved with one’s religious community might be the most significant link between religion and health.
In fact, attending services and being involved with one’s religious community might be the most significant link between religion and health. There’s evidence that attending services can reduce stress (and even lower blood pressure), which is helped by the fact that many services promote love, , , and —all of which to emotional health and happiness . Sørensen T, Danbolt LJ, et al. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 2011;42(1):13-28. .
This is all to suggest that, by and large, , rather than , that makes religious people healthy . Johnstone B, Yoon DP, et al. Brain Injuries, 2009 May;23(5):411-9. . Lewis VA, Macgregor CA, et al. Social Science Research, 2013 Mar;42(2):331-46.. Religious or not, many studies have shown that a support system is for maintaining both mental and physical health . Bianco T. Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, 2001 Dec;72(4):376-88. . Andersen MB, Williams, JM, et al. Journal of Sports Sciences. 1999 Sep;17(9):735-41.. That’s why leaving a particularly tightknit religious group can —because it amounts to losing one’s support network.
While spirituality may play a role in our wellbeing, religion’s biggest strength (in terms of health) may be the way it brings people together and provides them with a supportive family of friends. In short: If something makes people feel happy and loved, it makes them healthier.
By and large, it’s community, rather than doctrine, that makes religious people healthy.
The benefits of a supportive community aren’t unique to religion, but they’re a good reminder that we’re social animals— to be healthy. For those of us who aren’t religious, this means it’s important to find something larger than ourselves to be a part of. That might mean finding the right job, playing a team sport, joining a political group, taking a cooking class, or volunteering. Socializing with people who have similar goals and mindsets is one of to avoid loneliness and anxiety and maintain your own health.
If there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that our health and happiness are better when we know we’re in this together.
Has religion played a role in your health? Share in the comments below or get in touch with us on !