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Is Your Spirituality Keeping Your Heart Healthy?

Woman praying against sky

8 March 2021 | Tags: Blue Zones, Mental Wellness, Stress Management

What Do We Mean by Spirituality?

A religious person will often define themselves as being ‘spiritual’, but someone who speaks about their ‘spirituality’ may not necessarily consider themselves as ‘religious’.  From this, we can say that whilst spirituality often encompasses religiosity, it is often defined in broader terms. Whilst we know that there is no single definition for ‘spirituality’ or for ‘religion’, we like the simplicity of how they are described by the Australian organisation, IDEAS. 

Here at Epanafero, we have an inclusive philosophy.  We understand that faith is highly personalised, and we embrace all religious and spiritual paths that are respective of others and life-affirming. And as we like to keep things simple, we use the term spirituality to refer to all matters concerning “the spirit” … and invite you to interpret that as you deem fit!

Now that we have clarified this term, let us turn to the findings that continue to emerge from studies into the effects of religion/spirituality and health…

How Your Beliefs Affect your Health

More and more studies confirm the links between religion/spirituality and reduced onset of physical and mental illnesses, reduced mortality, and likelihood of recovery from or adjustment to physical and mental illness.

In 2012, a landmark study which reviewed hundreds of research papers concluded that:

Religion/spirituality is associated with “less depression, lower stress, less anxiety, greater well-being, and more positive emotions; facilitates coping and imbues negative events with meaning and purpose, leading to better mental health”. 

Additionally, this study noted “these possible benefits to mental health and well-being have physiological consequences that impact physical health, affect the risk of disease, and influence response to treatment.” 

According to another study, spirituality/religiosity plays a considerable role in reducing mortality rate, comparable to fruit and vegetable consumption for cardiovascular events and stronger than statin therapy.  And Dr. Howard Benson, research cardiologist and pioneer in mind/body medicine at the Harvard Medical School, found that meditation and prayer reduce stress responses and enable people to experience stressors without experiencing distress.

Man praying on his knees
Make your spirituality an essential part of your everyday life, for essential it is to your health

Additional to all of these health benefits, researchers at the University of Michigan found that people who derive a sense of meaning in life from religion tend to have higher levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem, and optimism. Related to these positive emotions are positive psychological traits such as being kind or compassionate, forgiving, and grateful.

It is important to point out that what one believes strongly impacts health outcomes – and spiritual/religious beliefs be used as a positive coping source (for example, solving a problem in collaboration with God, searching for help and comfort in religious literature) or with negative effect (for example, believing that God is punitive).

What Do the Blue Zones Teach Us?

The Blue Zones are the regions of the world with the healthiest, longest-lived people on earth; and there are five such areas: Barbagia (Sardinia), Ikaria (Greece), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda (California, US), and Okinawa (Japan). 

Research involving the centenarians in these Blue Zones clearly demonstrated that belonging to a (faith-based) community and attending faith-based services add life expectancy and quality of life, regardless of the denomination.  As was concluded by these investigations:

Religious/spiritual involvement influences health and longevity in various interconnected ways, including increasing healthy behaviours; providing a sense of meaning and purpose during difficult life circumstances, and building social support networks.

OUR TIPS to Improve Your Heart Health Today

When it comes to your spiritual practices, the what, the when, and the how are entirely up to you.  There is no “one size fits all”, as is evident from the many spiritual paths that exist around the world.

Knowing the multitude of health and other benefits that arise from practising one’s faith, we certainly encourage you to actively integrate this dimension into your life – and to give it the importance it deserves.  We recommend that you explore the path(s) that resonate(s) with you; connect with others who are similarly seeking to deepen their spirituality; and learn through, and from, your own personal experiences.  

We also urge you to dedicate time for your spiritual practices, deliberately and preferably daily. By doing this, you will anchor your practices into your routines in much the same way as many of the more mundane, but also important, activities of daily living.  It is through repetition that your spiritual practices will become part of your life, so much so that your days and weeks will not feel quite “right” unless you have attended to your spirituality.

Regardless of which path you choose, we know that your mind, body and spirit will benefit!