“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness…the important thing is they should be a part of our daily lives.” Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet.
Religion is often viewed as having an institutional structure, traditional activities, and rituals, and involves more accountability and responsibility to an organization. Religious participation is highest for older adults than any other age group. For many people, religion has a significant role in their life. Participation in a religious community is the largest source of social support outside of the family and the most common type of voluntary social activity. In fact, it is more common to be involved in church activities than all social events combined.
Several studies have shown an association between living longer and attending religious services. Attending religious services is associated with the following health outcomes:
- longer life
- better cancer and cardiovascular disease survival
- less depression and suicide
- lower rates of smoking, substance abuse, and divorce
- more significant social support, life satisfaction, and purpose
- more volunteering, charitable giving, and civic engagement.
However, during the pandemic, attending Church must be done by way of listening to a podcast, viewing a live service through an online channel, or watching a recording. This lack of in-person socialization and human touch can have a profound effect on health outcomes.
People who have strong religious beliefs show specific improvement to their mental and physical health. Religious people often believe that their god helps them feel better and enjoy better health. Researchers believe that there may be additional factors that contribute to the health benefits of religion, including psychological and social benefits, and practicing more health-promoting activities and caregiving.
The psychological benefits of religion fall into these categories: attitude, meaning, and purpose, and coping. Older adults with a positive, hopeful attitude about life and illness showed lower mortality rates and improved health. Many older people state that religion is the most important way to deal with their physical health problems and the stresses of life. These stresses included economic changes and the loss of a loved one.
People who used religious coping mechanisms were less likely to develop anxiety and depression, and if they did become depressed, they recovered more quickly than those who did not use religion. One coping practice is prayer. Prayer triggers the relaxation response, which can decrease stress, heart rate, and blood pressure, lessen symptoms of chronic disease and even change the way a gene works (gene expression). Ninety-six percent of older adults use prayer to cope with stress. Older adults use prayer more than they use complementary and alternative therapies for health.
Caregiving also benefits from religious beliefs and practices. Caregivers with a strong religious faith and social support were better able to cope with the stresses of caregiving.
Religion is one way to express spirituality.