… and got the shock of my life.
Okay, well, it wasn’t the shock of my life, but it was surprising, and more than a little pleasing.
What would you expect from a story with that headline in any mainstream news medium in America? They wouldn’t dare answer anything but –> YESYESYES!! <–, right?
But this writer, Dr. Richard Besser, sort of DID answer something other than yes.
The piece start out with a predictable, ominous feel:
Faith and medicine frequently intersect. My patients and I often talk about spirituality when we discuss medical issues. For many people, life-and-death decisions are grounded in a belief that a higher being will guide the outcome as much, or more than, the physicians and treatments involved. In addition, a support system based on shared faith can be extremely helpful in the healing process. Ministries frequently offer assistance programs and have relationships with social workers to counsel and provide services for those in need.
But it immediately veers off into some non-religious territory, talking about certain conclusions of public health pioneer Lester Breslow:
He demonstrated an association between longevity and health quality through a set of seven behaviors (known as the Alameda 7, for the California county in which they were identified): Not smoking; sleeping seven to eight hours per night; eating regular meals; maintaining a moderate weight; eating breakfast; drinking in moderation; and exercising at least moderately.
The writer then makes an explanatory connection between those healthy real-world behaviors and statistics showing Mormons living longer than average. He very gently makes the point that it’s not faith or religion that accounts for longevity, but ACTIONS.
Even when he veers into the realm of the “spiritual,” he gently waffles about giving credit to faith.
There are also many beneficial spiritual aspects to consider. The meditative nature of religious services can lower stress levels. Many services preach love, forgiveness, hope, and optimism, which foster a positive outlook on life that can translate into good emotional health. Many sermons address the importance of giving thanks, and we know that gratitude can be very important for mental health. In addition to religious leaders providing counseling, some religions incorporate confession, which can help unburden congregants from emotional distress. These are all things that might be good for your health.
He concludes with
Now, I’m not a religious person and I’ve yet to see any convincing studies that compare the belief systems of various religions and their impact on health. However, I know from experience that for some people the belief in a higher power is incredibly important in helping them cope with a serious illness. It is what gets them through tough times. For others, it is the sense of community, the group aspect of organized religion that has a big impact on their health. Alternatively, I see atheists who get great support through other means, including their understanding of the natural workings of the world. And clearly you don’t need to be religious to practice the healthful principles laid out by many of the world’s religions. Those should apply to everyone.
There’s a follow-up paragraph that really puts the capper on the point:
Practicing the health tenets espoused by many religions are associated with a longer life. And you know what? You don’t need to be religious or believe in God to follow them!
Hurrah for Dr. Besser!