There is overwhelming evidence – enough to say without hesitation: Prayer is healthy for those who practice it. Aside from the question of whether or not prayer generates responses from God, we do know from scientific studies on the question that prayer does generate response within the one who prayers. Back as far as 1990, over 250 studies have shown that religion plays a significant outcome in physical health. Since then the number has grown considerably.
Dale Matthew’s book “The Faith Factor” and William Backus’ “The Healing Power of a Healthy Mind” offer reviews of some of these studies. Herbert Benson, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Boston’s Deaconess Hospital has also written extensively on this subject. Benson in fact was one of the first to connect meditation and religious faith with healing and openly contends that prayer itself can sometimes aid the healing process.
Here are a few of best known studies linking prayer with health:
Poloma. M. M., Pendleton, B. F. (1991). The effects of prayer and prayer experiences on measures of general well-being. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1, 71-83. This study demonstrated that prayer and prayer experiences have a positive effect on the general health of those who practice it.
Laird, S. P., (1991). A preliminary investigation into the role of prayer as a coping technique for adult patients with arthritis (arthritis patients). (Doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, 1991). Laird found that in arthritis patients 1) having faith in prayer was positively related to better emotional adjustment, 2) praying more days per week was positively related to fewer health concerns, 3) engaging in confessional prayer was positively related to having more health concerns, 4) engaging in receptive prayer was positively related to greater social involvement with friends and relatives.
Highfield, M. (1992). Spiritual health of oncology patients: Nurse and patient perspectives. Cancer Nursing, 10, 1-8. Highfield demonstrates that faith is a significant aid for patients dealing with chronic pain.
Levin, J. (1994). Religion and health: Is there an association? Is it valid? Is it causal? Social Science and Medicine, v.38, n.11, 1475-82. This study documents how religious practice lessens the effects of sickle-cell anemia.
Backus, W. (1997). The healing power of a healthy mind. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers. Backus recounts studies showing how faith strengthens the immune system and gives bolstering weapons for patients battling AIDS.
Gardner, J., & Lyon, J. (1982). Cancer in Utah Mormon men by lay priesthood level. American Journal of Epidermiology, 116, 243-57. These researchers identified a correlation between regular public worship and lower cancer rates.
Enstrom, J. E. (1989). Health practices and cancer mortality among active California Mormons. Journal of National Cancer Institute, 81, 1807-14. This study discovered that for those who do contract cancer, faith is a significant factor in recovery.
Graham, T, B., Kaplan, J., Cornoni-Huntley, S., James, C., Becker, C., Hames, S., & Heydon, S. (1978). Frequency of church attendance and blood pressure elevation. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1, 37-43. They found that participation in some form of public worship is an effective deterrent against high blood pressure.
Comstock, G. & Partridge, K. (1972). Church attendance and health. Journal of Chronic Diseases, 25, 665-72. This study of 91,909 individuals in Maryland found that those who attended church once or more per week had significantly lower death rate from heart disease (50% reduction), emphysema (56% reduction), and cirrhosis of the liver (74% reduction).
Cerrato, Paul L. (1998). Spirituality and healing. RN, 2, 49. Cerrato found that faith elevated the general health of patients.
Berkel, J. & de Waard, F.(1983). Mortality pattern and life expectancy of Seventh-Day Adventists in the Netherlands. International Journal of Epidermiology 4, 455-59. This study showed that church attendance, meditation, religious study, and worship quite literally invigorate the body.
Granted: These studies do not prove that God works in prayer. They do demonstrate a clear connection between spirituality and a corresponding physical and emotional health. That, at least is something that theists and naturalists can agree upon.
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