Are Faith and Health Linked?
All religious traditions affirm that people are whole and that they are most healthy physically when they are connected spiritually, relationally and emotionally. All faiths also encourage concern about the well-being of others. Many recent studies are showing that these two factors seem to make a significant difference in people's wellness. Religiously active people live longer, have fewer hospitalizations, recover from illness or injury more quickly and are less affected by the stress of life's challenges.
Congregations are the hub of religious activity and have a clear role to play in helping their members and their neighbors in the community live whole and healthy lives.
Research shows that:
41% of Americans say they have been cured of an illness or had their condition significantly improved as a result of personal prayer or meditation (Yankelovich Partners, 1998).
Those who attend religious services at least once a week have been shown to have stronger immune system function compared with less frequent attendees (Koenig et al, 1997).
Patients are three times more likely to survive open-heart surgery if they depend on their religious faith (Oxman et al., 1995).
At the time of discharge, hip-fracture patients who are religious walk longer distances and have less depression than non-religious patients (Pressman et al., 1990).
If prayed for, patients have fewer complications when admitted to an intensive care setting (Byrd, 1988).
Hospital stays are nearly 2 1/2 times longer for older patients without a religious affiliation, compared to older patients with a religious affiliation. The same study showed that older adults are less likely to be hospitalized if they regularly attend religious services (Koenig and Larson, 1997).
Persons living in religious kibbutzim in Israel had less illness and a 50% lower mortality rate than those in secular kibbutzim, even when the secular community was tightly-knit (Kark et al., 1996).
A study of 2,679 baby-boom-generation participants found the rates of psychopathology, including depression and other mental illnesses, in frequent church attendees was half that among infrequent attendees (Koenig, 1994).
During a two-year study, 225 elderly people were followed after being forced to move from their homes. The more religiously committed were twice as likely to survive the two-year period, even after controlling for gender and health status. The most influential religious variable was "the strength and comfort" derived from religion (Zuckerman, 1984).
393 patients in a San Francisco Cardiac Care Unit were randomly assigned to receive intercessory prayer from a prayer group or to be in a control group that did not receive prayer. The patients receiving prayer had more favorable outcomes and less congestive heart failure, pneumonia, intubation, antibiotics, and cardiac arrest (Byrd, 1988).
In a study of 400 men, a strong religious commitment was found to cut high blood pressure risks, even among men who smoked (Larson, Koenig, Kaplan et al, 1989).
Benson, Herbert, with Marg Stark. Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief. Scribner: New York. 1996.
Gunderson, Gary. Deeply Woven Roots: Improving the Quality of Life in Your Community. Fortress Press: Minneapolis. 1997.
Koenig, Harold G. The Healing Power of Faith: Science Explores Medicine’s Last Great Frontier. Simon and Schuster: New York. 1999.
Matthews, Dale with Connie Clark. The Faith Factor: Proof of the Healing Power of Prayer. Viking: New York. 1998.