British researchers recently confirmed what many of us already knew or suspected: A vibrant spiritual life offers older people mental and emotional health benefits.
The study — of 28 recently bereaved seniors from various Christian backgrounds — found a clear link between spiritual belief and personal well being. Of the 28 participants, nine stated they had low or weak spiritual beliefs, 11 indicated moderate levels of belief and eight had strong beliefs.
Researchers interviewed participants on the first anniversary of their spouses' deaths, again, six months later, and also after the second anniversary of their loss. Those with strong beliefs indicated they were adjusting well, while those without some foundation of faith showed signs of depression.
Earlier studies have overwhelmingly shown a strong correlation between an active spiritual life and good physical health. More than 40 studies comprising some 125,000 participants have indicated that those with strong religious beliefs live longer. One six-year study of elderly North Carolina residents, predominantly Protestant, reported that those who prayed or read religious material daily had a much better chance of staying healthy.
Some researchers surmise that prayer and Bible study act as stress relievers, protecting the immune system and offering an emotional cushion in difficult times. The notable exception was people with religious beliefs that put a heavy emphasis on God's judgment over His love and mercy. The research indicated that guilt and fear of eternal punishment may actually damage health and increase stress.
For those of us who profess Christ as Lord and Savior, the take-away from these studies isn't simply a confirmation of the benefits of our belief in God. As we spend time with friends and family who are undergoing difficult times, we can offer them not only an eternal perspective to help them past temporal troubles, but a reminder that our health and emotional comfort can be found in our loving, heavenly Father.
Researchers surmise that prayer and Bible study act as stress relievers, protecting the immune system and offering an emotional cushion in difficult times.
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