Is Religion Good for Your Health?

Prayer, church attendance, and abiding faith all seem to positively affect blood pressure, heart, and coping skills.

BY: Dale Matthews

Excerpted from "God for the 21st Century," by permission of Templeton Foundation Press.

Is religion good for your health? Do prayer and faith help you heal?

A vivacious--and vexing--lady visited my medical office often, armed with a beguiling smile, a rapier wit, and intractable pain from arthritis. Each visit brought forth a languorous litany of incurable woe: She had sampled every painkiller in the pharmacopoeia, with scant success. "Is there anything that does help you?" I asked one day, in desperation.

"Faith and prayer!" she exclaimed. "And singing in the church choir!" Faith, prayer...and singing? Are these listed in the Physician's Desk Reference? Should they be? Karl Marx dismissed religion as "the opiate of the people." Is religion, like codeine and other opiates, an effective "drug" for pain and other disorders? What's the proper dose? Are there side effects?

The medical effects of faith are a matter not just of faith but also of science. More than 300 scientific studies demonstrate the medical value of religious commitment (including worship attendance, prayer, Scripture study, and active participation in a spiritual community). These benefits include enhanced prevention and treatment of mental disorders (e.g., depression, suicide, and anxiety); medical and surgical illnesses (e.g., heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted diseases); and addictions, reduced pain and disability, and prolonged survival. In addition, spiritual treatment (e.g., prayer, religiously based psychotherapy) enhances recovery.

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