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The Power of the Spirit

The expert survivors of the human race, those who live to 90 years of age or more, mention spirituality as one of the things that has contributed to their long lives. Spirituality has different meanings for different people. However, a definition that is widely held among those who have researched the topic is that spirituality has to do with the non-physical and un-material aspects of our being. For some spirituality is directly connected to organized religion, yet for others it is not.

It is widely believed that the human health should be approached from a holistic perspective. This means that humans are a combination of mind, body and spirit and health encompasses all three. Around the world, medical and university researchers have been taking a close look at how health status and spirituality are connected. Some of most recognized centers of this kind of research are The George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, The International Center for the Integration of Health and Spirituality, and The Center for Integrative Medicine.

Some of the benefits of a strong spiritual foundation that contribute to improved health and longevity are:

  • Spiritual beliefs often influence life style choices that promote health.

  • Association with others who hold similar spiritual beliefs can create strong, compassionate social networks

  • Spirituality can provide optimism when adverse circumstances are encountered.

  • An image of a power greater than us reduces anxiety and provides solace in times of suffering.

  • Spirituality often includes some form of meditation or prayer.

  • Spirituality often offers opportunities for forgiveness of others and us.

Andrew Weil, M.D, of The Center for Integrative Medicine is a strong proponent of the spiritual aspect of healthful life style choices. Some of the suggestions he makes for
strengthening the spiritual aspect of our health include:

  • Make a list of the all the injuries, illnesses, or problems you have successfully overcome. Think about what you did to speed the healing process.

  • Connect with nature. Have plants and flowers in your house and yard year around.

  • Spend time with people that make you feel more alive, happier, and more optimistic.

  • Listen to or play music that makes you feel happier and more alive.

  • Have a few objects that you find beautiful and keep them where you can see them everyday.

  • Help others because it makes you feel good, not because it is expected of you.

Christina M. Puchalski, M.D. founder and director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health has written extensively about the important role that forgiveness can play in our health. She contends that forgiveness of self and others leads to reduced anxiety and depression, improved coping skills, reduced risk of heart disease, and increased resistance to physical illness. This is strong evidence that depression can lead to poor self-care, stress can increase blood pressure, and poor coping skills create a vicious circle of depression and stress.

Several recent polls suggest that many people agree with Drs. Weil and Puchalski. A recent study conducted at Bellevue Hospital in New York City found that patients rated spirituality as more important to their recovery than the quality of food and rooms. A 1998 CBS News Poll and a 1996 TIME/CNN poll asked if people felt that doctors should pray with their patients. Six out of every ten people who responded said that doctors should join their patients in prayer if patient requested it. In a USA Weekend Faith and Health Poll six of every ten respondents said that it is good for doctors to talk with their patients about spiritual beliefs.

For a person to have the health benefits that a spiritual foundation brings, it is not necessary for them to belong to an organized religion. Each person can find the things that strengthen their connection with a power greater than themselves. No matter how it is accomplished, there seems to be little doubt that the extreme survivors are right when they say that spirituality is one of the things contributes to longevity and good health.

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