Are you healthy in four-dimensions? According to the World Health Organization, the four dimensions of health are physical, mental, social and spiritual health. They are all intertwined, each affecting all the others. For example, we all know that having a cold can make us feel down emotionally. Lack of sleep or a flu can make it hard to think.
But did you know that improving your mood can make you feel better physically, too? And this applies equally to spiritual health: multiple studies show that people who are religious or spiritual, and who are involved in their faith community, have better health outcomes across all four dimensions of health.
Spirituality and health
Many studies done around the world have found profound links between mental and physical health. Poor mental health is widely regarded as a risk factor for chronic physical conditions. For example, a Canadian study found that people who report symptoms of depression have three times as many chronic physical conditions as the general population. Depression can cause lower energy levels, which can decrease physical activity and increase food cravings. Lack of exercise and a poor diet can have significant physical health impacts.
And on the other side, physical activity and a healthy diet improve mood and energy, and can help alleviate some symptoms of depression.
Neuroscientists at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia round that meditation and meditative prayer activate areas in the brain involved in regulating emotional responses – may help people be more calm, less reactionary, and better able to deal with things that cause stress.
By the same token, faith can have profound impacts on physical, mental, emotional and social health. The Mayo Clinic stated that “religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and quality of life, and less anxiety, depression and suicide.”
A study at Duke University found that religious people have fewer depressive symptoms. Characteristics like compassion, forgiveness and gratefulness are also associated with decreased stress and increased resiliency. Religious people also tend to feel a stronger internal sense of control over their lives, which are also associated with better mental health.
Health care has deep roots in religious institutions. In western civilization, the earliest hospitals were often run by religious orders, and this connection persists to this day.
People who are active in their faith community form more connections with other people. This social health affects mental health, reducing depression and anxiety.
Involvement in a faith or any other community can provide a sense of belonging and purpose.
From a practical point of view, being an active part of a community puts you in touch with a larger group of people who can provide emotional support when you need it. Supportive people will be willing to help when you’re feeling unwell. A community will notice when you’re at home, sick. Many faith communities organize visits to the housebound and ill, prepare food and help with household duties for members who become ill.
Better mental health and reduced stress and anxiety are correlated with better physical health and longer life expectancy. People with better moods and a positive outlook are often more motivated to exercise regularly. Or to put it another way, depression leads to a lack of exercise, which then leads to reduced overall physical health — which can then lead to more depression in a vicious downward spiral.
Better physical health also means less need for medications of all types. Several medical studies have found evidence that being connected to a faith community or any other supportive group also helps boost the immune system.
Many faiths admonish against, or even prohibit the consumption of alcohol, recreational pharmaceuticals and tobacco. Christianity, among other religions, also emphasizes the importance of caring for your own physical body as the temple of the spirit.
Some spiritual or religious beliefs have also been shown to be harmful to health. An obvious example is prohibitions against perfectly safe medical procedures, such as blood transfusions, on religious grounds.
There are also connections to mental health. For example, a belief that God is punishing you has been linked with harmful outcomes like higher rates of depression, and resulting harm to mental and physical health.
Healthy spirit, healthy mind, healthy body, healthy community
The link between faith and good health is clear to scientists, doctors, health care providers and spiritual leaders. Healthy life practices are healthy for every aspect of your life.
While this is not as important, better physical, emotional and spiritual health is also healthy economically. First, your family will spend less money on remedies, medications and treatments. And as a member of a faith community, you may be eligible to join a faith-based healthcare sharing group, which provides many of the benefits of an ACA health insurance plan but at a significant cost saving. If you’d like to learn more about this, give one of our friendly associates a call.
So don’t forget about your spiritual health. Get the whole family involved in your faith community for the best possible spiritual, social, mental and physical health.