A National Day of Prayer May Be Good For Your Health


2010-05-06 13:06

Despite much controversy and a pending lawsuit, the federally-recognized “National Day of Prayer” is being held today – a tradition that dates back to 1952. In an effort to reach all religions, or those who choose freedom from religion, President Obama called for citizens to “pray or otherwise give thanks.”

A calling on assistance from God is a very common feature in all religions. In fact, a Gallup poll shows that 95% of the population believes in God (in some form) and finds comfort, support, and hope from prayer.

“Throughout our history, whether in times of great joy and thanksgiving, or in times of great challenge and uncertainty, Americans have turned to prayer," said Mr. Obama. "In prayer, we have expressed gratitude and humility, sought guidance and forgiveness, and received inspiration and assistance, both in good times and in bad."

Some science shows that there are also health benefits to including prayer or gratitude in daily living. In general, research shows that people who pray regularly are less likely to become ill and when they do, they tend to recover faster.

The obvious benefit is mental health. Prayer provides people a form of coping that is positive and brings about personal empowerment. Well-being, hope and optimism, purpose and meaning in life translates into less depression, anxiety and fear, and improved social relationships.

Better mental health often leads to better physical health. A 2005 study from the Harvard Medical School found that one-third of Americans use prayer to facilitate physical healing.

Studies published in major journals such as JAMA, PNAS, and the Lancet has found a connection between an optimistic disposition and reduced mortality from diseases such as cardiovascular disease. A positive outlook also has been linked to improved immune system function.

Prayer or meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol, decrease cholesterol levels, and may have a positive influence on certain heart issues, such as arrhythmias. There are also studies that find that people who pray are less likely to have substance abuse issues.

Of course, prayer is difficult to test “clinically”, so much research is based on observational studies. But because it is a crucial component in many people’s lives, spiritual health should be included as part of a comprehensive care plan in the health care process.