New brain scan research has shown that spiritual practices can actually improve memory and may even slow down the aging process itself.

Dr. Andrew Newberg wrote a book entitled How God Changes Your Brain’ Through extensive research and brain scans, he shows that spiritual practices are inherently good for our bodies—especially our brains. According to Newberg, both meditation and prayer play significant roles in strengthening important circuits in our brains, which make us more socially aware and alert, while reducing anxiety, depression, and neurological stress.

Consider this: In our goal to live longer, does trust in divine power play a role?

In a study entitled “Religious involvement and U.S. adult mortality,” it was found that people who never attended religious activities exhibited close to 2 times the risk of death, compared with those attending religious activities more than once a week. This amounts to a seven-year difference in life expectancy. In other words, the health benefit of regularly attending religious activities is comparable to not smoking!

So does this mean having faith in God changes our brains and our bodies?  Is it really a valid means of living happier, healthier, and longer lives?

Well, for starters, different studies have shown a connection between a lack of religious service attendance and the likelihood of having respiratory disease, infectious disease, or diabetes. The health risk extends so far as having high blood pressure, depression, suicide, lung cancer, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, and hospital admissions. It is also more likely to become physically disabled and suffer from weaker immune systems.

In contrast, regular church attendees were more likely to stop smoking, increase their physical activity, become more social, and stay married.

It’s all pretty startling and you might be thinking: how does it all work?

Well, organized religion usually provides a social support system that’s been shown to improve overall health. In a study of cardiac surgery patients, people with low social support who did not depend on their religious faith for strength had a mortality rate that was 12 times higher than people who did have a strong religious support network to rely on.

Many hear this and think: Well then, it’s the social support that boosts health, not God.  It’s a question that’s been asked often enough that a study was conducted to examine it. The study followed 22 kibbutzim, which are essentially collective Jewish farming communities. For 16 years, the study compared 11 religious kibbutzim in Israel with 11 secular kibbutzim. The study carefully matched them to make them as statistically similar as possible. Yet, despite their statistical similarities, the results were striking: nearly twice as many people in the secular community died during the study.

Ever consider the phrase “power of prayer”?  Academic studies show that prayer has beneficial health effects, particularly for the person who is doing the praying. Studies of ‘petitionary’ prayer, in which a person prays for his or her own health or peace of mind, show tangible statistical results. Science backs up the benefits of praying for your own health, especially when it comes to mental health like clinical depression. 

So, does God change our brains? Or, as our creator, does God know what makes us the most healthy? I believe that God wants to be in a relationship with us.  When we allow him into our lives, our brains are ‘turned on’, our bodies are made more efficient, our immune systems are strengthened, thinking becomes clearer, and, well, we feel great.

In our goal to live longer, healthier lives, being rooted firmly in God and fellowshipping with likeminded believers has been shown to be one of the most effective strategies. My suggestion?  Consider stepping into your local church this weekend.  It wouldn’t hurt.


About the Author

Randy Bivens, MD

Dr. Randy Bivens graduated from Loma Linda School of Medicine, completing first an internal medicine internship, then a diagnostic radiology residency. In addition to serving as president of Life and Health Network, Dr. Bivens is also president of Bivens Medical Corporation, an imaging consulting service.

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