Spirituality and health: Is there a connection?

Faith and support help people deal with stress, add to overall health

person praying on beach

Studies show that spirituality can impact the healing process of someone who is experiencing a health challenge

Do religion and spirituality impact our health? Scientific researchers and clergy alike believe in the positive relationship between spirituality and health. Regardless of the religion, evidence points to a connection between the two.

Rev. Jamie D. Hawley, M.Div., is an ordained United Church of Christ minister and staff chaplain with the University of Michigan Spiritual Care Department, believes that spirituality can impact the healing process of someone who is experiencing a health challenge. He references studies from the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health Sciences, the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education and Harvard Health Publications to support this belief.

Rev. Hawley says the U-M spiritual care team offers support to all faiths, using a holistic approach that takes into consideration the body, mind and spirit. “Even if we don’t have the faith represented in the department, we will get that patient the right care. We often partner with faith communities outside the hospital, so that a patient knows he or she is supported via prayer or pastoral visits.” As a Christian chaplain, Rev. Hawley says that “Holy Week is a humble reminder that our task as spiritual care providers often includes journeying through the gloom of a patient’s Good Friday experience all the way to an Easter vision, whatever that may be for the patient.”

Religious practices – a natural healer

Neal Krause, Ph.D., the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, points out the health-influencing aspects of religion:

  • Religious services have a meditative quality, which is associated with lower levels of stress.
  • Prayer may bring comfort and a sense of calm to a patient, resulting in fewer worries and less stress.
  • Religion tends to promote love, forgiveness and hope, often leading to a positive outlook on life, which is good for emotional health.
  • Sermons by religious leaders often emphasize thankfulness, another aspect of good emotional health.

A breakthrough study

Dr. Krause and his colleagues are conducting a landmark survey to study the cause and effect between religion and health.

The team will assemble a 3,000-member sample of people 18 and older from across the United States, and will focus on a number of dimensions of religious life. The research sets up the infrastructure to follow people over time and gather data on various biomarkers — blood pressure, height, weight, waist circumference, immune function, glucose levels, inflammation associated with heart disease — and track them against a spectrum of religion measures.

Living a faith-based life

Rev. Jamie Hawley administers ashes at U-M on Ash Wednesday.

Rev. Jamie Hawley administers ashes at U-M on Ash Wednesday.

“Overall, studies show the support that people find in church helps them deal with stress, often more effectively than support in other secular groups,” Dr. Krause says, noting that religion reads like a manuscript for relieving stress. “It gives people a framework for making sense of what is happening to them. ‘My loved one died because it was God’s plan,’ versus having no way to come to terms with a death. Religion gives a person structure, which brings comfort.”

Dr. Krause believes that those who to choose to live according to the philosophies of a faith-based organization may experience health benefits. These philosophies include:

  • Seek and nurture loving relationships.
  • Be there for others in need.
  • Express thanks and gratitude.


Easter season services at U-M

The following Easter services are open to staff, faculty, patients and their families:

March 25 Good Friday services will include:

  • A Catholic service in the UH Chapel, Floor 2, at Noon.
  • Interdenominational service at 12:30 p.m.

March 27 – Easter Sunday services will include:

  • A Catholic service in the UH Chapel, at 11:00 a.m.
  • An interdenominational service, at Noon

The Cardiovascular Center has two chapels that are open 24 hours a day as well as quiet rooms located on Floor 2A Room 001B and Floor 4 Room 4141.

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