Top Ten Health Benefits of Spirituality

In recent years, science and medicine have increasingly recognised the role spirituality plays in health.

The General Medical Council and the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Psychiatry all clearly assert the real need for spirituality to be integrated into medicine and care – a need that the World Health Organization has highlighted since 1984. Here I outline ten of the key benefits spiritual practice can bring to both physical and mental health.

  • LIVE LONGERr: Research at Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health in th USA, which has reviewed over 3000 scholarly papers on the health benefits of spirituality, clearly indicates that it supports people to live longer, healthier lives.
  • STRONG IMMUNE SYSTEM: The practice of ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation (directed to self and others) – as well as benefiting others in our lives – reduces the hormones of anxiety and increases the cocktail of wellbeing hormones. This boosts the immune system making you more resilient against viruses and other health threats.
  • HEALTHY GUT AND STOMACH: Spiritual practices for grounding put the enteric nervous system, sometimes called the gut brain, at ease. This balances acidity and supports healthy gut bacteria. Recent research also shows that a healthy gut benefits mental health and conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
  • LESS HEART ATTACKS AND STROKES: Yoga breathing exercises enable our heart rate variability (HRV) to become integrated and harmonious, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • HEALS NERVOUS EXHAUSTION: Meditation takes our brains, nervous and endocrine systems into the same regenerating state as when we are sleeping and relaxing. This calms and strengthens us.
  • BOOSTS CONFIDENCE: The lifestyle and self-management practices of spirituality give people a more secure sense of being in control of their lives. This boosts self-confidence.
  • REDUCES RISK OF MENTAL ILLNESS: Belief in a spiritual aspect to life brings comfort, reassurance and a sense of meaning. This reduces the risk of mental illness and supports recovery.
  • LIGHTENS DEPRESSION: Believing that the purpose of human life is to develop compassion and wise consciousness brings hope and relief.
  • COMBAT LONELINESS: Having friends and a community are good for people’s general health. A spiritual lifestyle also encompasses finding a sense of community and connection with the natural world. This is sometimes called biophylia or nature-based spirituality
  • REDUCES STRESS: The most important elements of spirituality — belief, community, lifestyle, caring — all reduce existential anxiety. This then works through neural networks and the endocrine system to calm people physically and psychologically. Being at ease with life strengthens physical and mental health.
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