Believing in God is good for your health

A new report indicates that those who believe in God not only live a healthier life but may also add as much as 14 years to their life.

According to the new report published by Christian Medical Fellowship, those who have faith carry positive health benefits such as coping with illness, faster recovery, as well as protection from future illnesses.

The report, "Health Benefits of Christian Faith” by Dr Alex Bunn and Dr David Randall, drew its evidence from over 1,200 studies and 400 reviews.

It reads, “In contrast to the popular myth that Christian faith is bad for health, on balance, and despite its limitations, the published research suggests that faith is associated with longer life and a wide range of health benefits. In particular, faith is associated with improved mental health.”

One of the studies, where more than 20,000 American adults participated, shows that income and education had little impact but those who went to church regularly had seven years added to their life expectancy. It highlights that life expectancy doubled for African Americans with an extra 14 years.

People with mental health problems, such as psychosis, also proved to cope better when religion was involved. They also showed to be more compliant with their medication.

The report notes that the mental health benefits for believers include well-being, happiness and life satisfaction, and a sense of hope and optimism, purpose and meaning in life.

Believers have higher self-esteem, adapt better to bereavement, feel less lonely and are less likely to suffer from depression. Those who do suffer depression tend to make a faster recovery from depression.

They are less likely to commit suicide or suffer anxiety, display fewer psychotic tendencies, and are less likely to suffer alcohol and drug abuse.

They are also less likely to get involved in delinquency and criminal activity and tend to enjoy greater marital stability and satisfaction.

CMF emphasises that health benefits depend on how devoted Christians are in their faith. For example, those who are genuinely devoted to God are less likely to associate themselves with “risky heath behaviours for instance problem drinking, smoking and permissive sexual behaviour”.

“One study even found that religious attendance was associated with a more than 90 percent reduction in meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicemia), in teenagers, a protection at least as good as meningococcal vaccination. Furthermore, religious involvement has been associated with improved adherence to medication.”

For those living with an illness, studies have also indicated that spirituality or religion plays a positive role. “In one robust study of people living with HIV, those who grew in appreciation of spirituality or religious coping after diagnosis suffered significantly less decline in their CD4 counts and slower disease progression over a four year follow-up.”

While much-debated questions arise on whether to “prescribe faith” or not, the doctors personally support spiritual care but with caution because, in some cases, “They argue further that prescribing faith might be coercive, given the implicit authority gradient in the doctor-patient relationship, and that doctors could cause psychological harm by suggesting that patients' illnesses are caused by a lack of religious devotion.”

The report concludes that although faith has positive physical benefits on each person, “The Christian faith is not to be judged by its material benefits, but by whether it is true,” especially when ironically, “suffering helps Christians to trust not in themselves but in God.”

“Christians should not promote health benefits as the primary reason for coming to faith in Christ. Jesus came into the world to work a far deeper transformation in human lives than simply curing disease.”