Spirituality and You

Published: January 7, 2019

Spirituality and You

Exercise and a healthy diet are key players in our overall health—but the link between good health and spirituality remains unclear.  Several studies over the past few years have shown that as we grow older, we benefit from focusing our attention on beauty, the meaning of life, the things that connect us, and our place in the world, concepts often associated with spirituality.

When we hear the word spirituality, our minds may immediately go to religion. But spirituality is actually a very broad term used to describe not only religion, but also mindfulness, meditation, and other forms of purpose or being.

However you define spirituality, it appears to have a positive effect on one’s health.

Science looks at the spiritual link to health

In a study conducted at the University of Missouri, researchers gathered people from different faith traditions – including Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Protestants – to see if there were any differences in health outcomes. They discovered that increased spirituality was “significantly related” to better mental health, regardless of what form the spirituality took.

An article published in Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society, looked at several published studies on the topic of spirituality’s effect on health and found a link between high levels of religious or spiritual beliefs and better physical health among patients with cancer.

Nontraditional spirituality

One of the most popular forms of nontraditional spirituality is mindful meditation (or simply, mindfulness). Mindfulness has been getting a lot of press lately, and with good reason—it was shown in one study to prevent the thinning of the frontal cortex (the reason we forget things as we age), improves our reading comprehension, and improved overall mental health.

The study, led by Dr. Sara Lazar of Harvard Medical School, found that participating in an 8-week-long Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) led to changes in the areas of the brain used for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, and perspective taking.

A similar study in Korea showed that mindfulness reduces anxiety levels—another found that it helped curb stress eating. It may even help you sleep more soundly at night.

Increasing spirituality in your life

If you are a religious person who attends services regularly, you may not need any additional motivation to increase your spiritual participation. However, not all of us grew up in a religious tradition, so we may find it challenging to suddenly become “spiritual.”

Mindfulness is a simple way to begin experiencing the benefits of spirituality. While it may sound complicated, or even difficult for those of us who like to stay on the move, mindfulness is an excellent way to focus all of our senses inwards, with purpose.

If you’re eating lunch, focus on the flavor of the food or its colors. Consider its texture and savor each bite. Enjoy it! When talking a walk, focus on the muscles in your legs and your back—how are they moving? What does that feel like? Center all of your thoughts and energy on one activity at a time and really get the most out of it. A more complex example is being mindful of new information—be open to receiving new ideas and interpreting information through a new, nonjudgmental lens. You may find that this helps your most important relationships.

Whether you begin attending religious services or even just take a moment to stop and smell the roses, spirituality is becoming an increasingly important part of both our physical and mental well-being. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional to learn more.