It is true that for years many professionals in both the mental and medical healthcare professions have suggested that religion might be bad for your health. Perhaps their observations were drawn from those who were adversely affected by hellfire and damnation sermons (on the other hand, perhaps there was a reason they felt guilty--just a thought!). Or perhaps it was a backlash at the rather unscientific way religion often seems to operate. But a corner seems to have been turned. Apparently there have been some findings, empirical/measurable, medical/scientific findings, that counter the old school of thought. Indeed, these findings indicate that religion, prayer, and church attendance may actually be good for you.
Not too long ago the National Institute for Healthcare Research compiled a four volume compendium of over 360 studies on the effects of spirituality on health. They collected the research and statistics for virtually every significant study ever done on the subject. These studies were not just done by religious institutions that might have a vested interest; they were studies by such universities as Dartmouth, Duke, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Akron, Loyola College, the University of Washington, and scores of others. And the results astonished even the skeptics.
For instance, men who were significantly involved and socially active in their churches had lower blood pressure. Men undergoing heart-bypass surgery who had were religious had one-third the mortality rate of those who were not religious. A Dartmouth study of men having cardiac surgery showed that men uninvolved in faith and church had a 12% mortality rate, whereas those who had a strong faith and were involved in their churches had a near 0% mortality rate. In fact, repeated studies showed that those who regularly participated in their faith activities actually enjoyed longer lives--and they enjoyed their longer lives more than their counterparts who had little or no faith commitments. As for women, in a ten year study of 2,700 people it was discovered that church attendance was the only social factor that effectively decreased their mortality rate.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Those families who were active in their faith through church participation had significantly lower divorce rates. But even a better indicator of the stability of these marriages is that couples who regularly attended church together said they would be willing to marry the same spouse again, a level of commitment difficult to find in most marriage satisfaction studies. And as surprising as it may seem, couples committed to their religious faith and practice experienced improved sexual expression and satisfaction in their marriages.
Several studies showed that families who worshiped together had children less inclined to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or gang activity. Other studies showed that the negative effects on children of broken marriages could be offset by a strong religious faith commitment.
The studies go on and on and evidence supporting the link between improved health and commitment to religion and spirituality continues to grow. For those of us who've been in the church all our lives, we're hardly surprised, but it's good to see the scientific community confirming what we knew by faith all along. And yet, all this only goes to show that early to bed and early to rise may make one wealthy, but getting connected with God is still the best way to get both healthy and wise.