Spirituality, Religion and Health

Religious practices and spiritual behaviors have distinct but complementary health benefits. That was the conclusion of a study led by Carolyn Aldwin, professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. She and her colleagues (Crystal Park of the University of Connecticut and Yu-Jin Jeong and Ritwik Nath of OSU) reviewed previously published reports and evaluated evidence in the scientific literature.

Religiousness, including formal religious affiliation and service attendance, is associated with lower smoking rates and reduced alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and private prayer, helps regulate emotions, which aids physiological effects such as blood pressure.

“No one has ever reviewed all of the different models of how religion affects health. We’re trying to impose a structure on a very messy field,” says Aldwin, the Jo Anne Leonard endowed director of OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research.

The John Templeton Foundation supported the research. (For more on Aldwin’s research, see “The Stress Paradox,” Terra, winter 2010.)