Monday, December 17, 2012

The connection between good health and a religious lifestyle

The connection between good health and a religious lifestyle that incorporates faith in God and prayer has been puzzling the Western medical community over the last few years, as studies have shown that such factors as synagogue attendance are predictors of better all-round health.

A new article, released in the October 2012 edition of the Israel Medical Association Journal, examined data collected by a comprehensive European study.

The Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, or SHARE, collected data relating to health and aging from 1,287 Israeli Jews over age 50 as part of a wide-ranging study conducted in 10 European countries and Israel between 2004-2006.

When Dr. Jeff Levin from the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Texas analyzed the data, he found that regular synagogue attendance is a predictor for good medical health. Levin reached this conclusion by examining the data concerning the relative incidence of chronic medical problems, diseases and disabilities, as well as physiological symptoms such as heart problems, respiratory difficulties and sleep impairment.

Regularly attending synagogue services was linked to lower rates of sickness, even after adjustment for variables such as age. The study linked lack of support outside of the home to worse medical outcomes, a finding that reflects the isolation experienced by older patients who lack regular social interaction.

The findings also pointed to synagogue attendance as a disease-preventing factor for elderly Jews, and prayer was reported even to have a therapeutic and healing effect on sick patients.

“In summary, the present study offers modest evidence of a health benefit from Jewish religiousness – whether as a protective factor or a coping response – that is consistent with results from previous studies among other religious groups and in other countries,” wrote Levin.

Evidence of the connection between religion and improved health has been more prevalent as of late. In July, researchers from Tel Aviv University reported that prayer decreases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related disorders. Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem reported over a decade ago that death rates from heart disease and tumors are higher within secular kibbutzim than among religious kibbutzim.

By Alejandro S. Bloch

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that they may have the cause and effect totally backwards, here.

    People who are sick - especially with chronic illness - are more likely not to feel well enough to attend synagogue services and events regularly! People who live with chronic poor health do not have the energy to pursue social interactions, and find themselves socially isolated as a result of their illness.

    Also, a majority of Jewish people with mental health disorders and/or severe learning and developmental disabilities feel rejected/unwanted by their Jewish community!

    Therefore, it is to be expected that people counting the healthy and unhealthy populations in and outside of synagogue communities will find more healthy people within the synagogue communities! But the cause and effect are exactly the opposite of that posited by Alejandro Bloch.

    My friend, photographer and author Jane Strauss, recently completed a book/photo-journal about inclusion and exclusion (particularly within synagogue communities), specifically regarding people on the autism spectrum, called "A Part, or Apart".
    Here's a link to an interview with her, from this past summer:!

    The issues that she addresses, of exclusion (sometimes unintended, but all too common nonetheless) of those on the autism spectrum, apply just as well to people with all kinds of disabilities and illnesses, both physical and mental/emotional.