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The power of prayer

Do people who pray enjoy healthier lives? Possibly. People have turned to prayer and spiritual practices to help improve their health and well-being for thousands of years, but only recently have scientists begun studying the effects religion, faith and spirituality may have on health.

Researchers know that many people pray. In a national survey of 31,000 people supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 45 percent of respondents used prayer for health reasons, including praying for their own health, having others pray for them and taking part in a prayer group for their health.

Spirituality may be associated with reduced depression, improved blood pressure and a healthier immune system, say some researchers. Spiritual people are less likely to have self-destructive behaviors like suicide, smoking and drug and alcohol abuse, and they suffer less stress and enjoy greater fulfillment with life.

Experts suspect religion, faith and prayer may aid in protecting your health and fighting off disease because it can help you to:

  • Relax. When your body is relaxed, your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate all go down, decreasing the body’s stress response and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Focus on personal goals. Exploring what’s most meaningful in your life can help you clarify your goals and redirect your energy from less important things.
  • Find your place in the world. Feeling a part of something greater than yourself helps give you a sense of purpose and allows you to feel less alone. Seeing the big picture can also help you realize you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in your life. Sharing this burden can help you better cope with hard times and enjoy the good times more.
  • Expand your support network. Belonging to an organized religion can provide many chances for social support. Attend religious services or join the choir or a study group.