Until very recently, spirituality was often linked with health care. Over the past century, however, the rise of technology has caused health care to focus more on the scientific aspects of care – on the cure and the prolonging of life. And, while advancements in technology have had a profound impact on the individual, the most recent philosophies have begun to question the potentially important roles faith and spirituality play in serving the needs of the whole person that science has not been able to fulfill.
During the past several decades, scientific studies have shown that faith, good health and longevity may be linked both directly and indirectly. In the study Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications, researchers found that religion and spirituality positively affect happiness, optimism, meaning and purpose, self-esteem, sense of control, exercise, diet, weight, and social support while physically impacting a range of chronic diseases including heart disease, dementia, and cancer. Here’s a look at some of what science has revealed about the connection between faith and longevity.
Faith as a stress buster for seniors
Stress is a ubiquitous health term, but one thing is sure, too much stress is not good for us. For example, natural stress, such as that which sets in motion the “fight or flight response” to a threat, is an acute form of stress that helps us stay safe. Long-term or chronic stress, such as that felt when daily life is overwhelming, can lead to dire consequences. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress can lead to a range of health repercussions, both physical and psychological, all or any of which can impact overall health.
But can having faith help lower stress? A 2017 study titled, “Church attendance, allostatic load and mortality in middle aged adults,”1 looks at differences in “allostatic load,” or AL, which is a psychological measure of stress, between church goers and non-church goers. Almost 5,500 Americans ages 40-65 were involved and data revealed evidence of the positive impacts of church attendance on stress.
“We found a significant association between church attendance and mortality among middle-aged adults after full adjustments. AL, a measure of stress, only partially explained differences in mortality between church and non-church attendees. These findings suggest a potential independent effect of church attendance on mortality.”
For more about the study, the Blue Zones article, “Religion May Reduce Stress and Increase Longevity,”2 takes an in-depth look at the study, the subjects and the results.
A Senior’s Faith versus hypertension
Another aspect concerning the link between faith and longevity is that of evidence-based programs undertaken by churches to address health concerns in their communities. Churches have long been places to gather and share a common faith through worship and social events, and many even offer assistance like food banks and childcare. Recently, however, a new intervention has begun through churches in black communities to help residents understand and address the threat of high blood pressure or hypertension.
The Blue Zones article, “Studies Show Church Communities Can Help Reduce High Blood Pressure,”3 discusses several studies in New York City, Jacksonville, Fla. and Atlanta, Ga., that look into how churches have developed programs to bring attention to the devastating problem of high blood pressure within African-American communities. The programs work with local health agencies and other organizations to screen residents for hypertension, offer exercise programs and informational publications, and work to draw attention to the dangers of the disease, especially for people of African-American descent.
The simple benefits of faith for seniors
Having faith, regardless of religion, has many simple longevity benefits, as evidenced by people living in Blue Zones around the world. Looking at the Blue Zones Power of 9, it’s easy to see that faith can be part of many of the practices that have been identified as beneficial in the lives of the world’s oldest people. These include keeping loved ones first, being in the right tribe, taking time to downshift, having a sense of purpose, and belonging to a faith-based community.
Whether life takes us to a thriving metropolitan area, a quiet rural community or an island in the ocean, research is showing that having faith can benefit the human spirit as well as the body, helping us live longer and happier lives. Learn more about how faith influences residents of Loma Linda, Calif., the only Blue Zones community in the United States.
Arrow Senior Living offers a healthy and vibrant environment for people of all faiths. Find out more about our community and amenities by contacting us today.