Health and prayer … does it lead to success? They do not necessarily go hand in hand, but it has been demonstrated that there is a correlation.
The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vicent Peale, was written nearly fifty years ago and has sold over five million copies. It is still in print today. What I find remarkable about Peale’s book is that it championed the healing powers of prayer decades before science confirmed Peale’s observations. Modern-day cynics might disregard prayer and speak scornfully of religion. But first-rate science has now demonstrated the amazing power of spirituality in general and prayer in specific. I don’t mean to suggest that spirituality, religion, and prayer be adopted simply as another technique for improving mood and enhancing positive thought. The religious or spiritual impulse must first come out of deeply held beliefs, which are beyond the scope of this article. But if you have this impulse, then practicing your religious or spiritual belief will be extremely beneficial to your health and life.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Religion is for the weak and old.
THE REALITY OF SUCCESS: Get on your knees to succeed!
The Bio-makeup of Prayer
Scientific, not anecdotal, studies now show that prayer works wonders on health. Of the three hundred studies on spirituality in scientific journals, the National Institute of Health Research found that 75 percent showed that religion and prayer have a positive effect on health. I’m also recommending that you use spirituality to build positive thought and a great mental attitude. Consider the following studies.
One of the first Studies to address the issue of prayer and health was a controversial study by Dr. Randolph Byrd. Dr. Byrd explored the benefits of intercessory prayer or prayer for others. He reported on the “Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit.” This ten-month double-blind study took place in a large county hospital in San Francisco. Half the subjects were prayed for and half were not; not only did the subjects not know whether they were being prayed for or not, but the people praying also did not know the patients for whom they were praying. The study found that the patients who were prayed for had fewer cases of congestive heart failure, less pneumonia, less need for antibiotics, and fewer cardiac arrests than those who weren’t. Although some scientists questioned Byrd’s method and claimed that one can’t control intercessory prayer for the group not prayed for (after all, their families might be praying for them), Byrd’s study became a landmark in that it opened an important question. And several subsequent studies showed concrete health benefits of prayer.
In a study of thirty female patients recovering from hip fractures, those who regarded God as a source of strength and comfort and who attended religious services were able to walk farther upon discharge and had lower rates of depression than those who had little faith.
One study by Harold G. Koenig, M.D., Director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health, measured interleukin-6 blood levels in a church group. High levels of interleukin-6 usually indicate a lowering of immune function, and the church group members had lower interleukin-6 levels, indicating enhanced immune function.
In another study, Dr. Koenig discovered that religion-active older people tend to have lower blood pressure than those who are less active. “The likelihood of having a diastolic blood pressure of 90 or higher, the level most often associated with increased risk for strokes or heart attacks, was 40 percent lower among those who attended a religious service at least once a week and prayed or studied the Bible at least once a day, than among those who did so less often. In yet another study with the elderly, Harold Koenig, M.D., and David Larson, M.D., found that people sixty and older who attended religious services at least once a week were 56 percent less likely to have been hospitalized in the previous year than those attending services less frequently.
A Dartmouth Medical School study found that of 232 patients who underwent elective heart surgery, the very religious were three times more likely to recover than those who were not. The most consistent indicator of survival was the amount of strength or comfort the patients said they received from their religious faith. In fact, the more religious they described themselves, the greater the protective effect. Of 37 patients who described themselves as “deeply religious,” none died. The researchers also found that the more socially active patients had higher survival rates. More time spent in religious activity correlated with more overall happiness and satisfaction.
So the more religious you are, the better for your emotional health. That seems contrary to the conventional wisdom. How many times have you heard friends complain about a strict religious upbringing and about how much it “screwed them up.” And how many times have you heard experts argue that authoritarian religious upbringing or doctrine may damage mental health. New research indicates that the only damage done is when people abandon their religion. Listen to these results from a large, long-term University of Pennsylvania study.
Professor Martin Seligman considered nine major religions in the U.S.:
Fundamentalist: These groups interpret their religious texts quite literally and impose a lot of day-to-day regulation upon their followers. Professor Seligman looked at three religions that show heavy religious involvement and influence.
Moderates: Groups who no longer blindly accept the faith.
Liberals: Groups who encourage individuality, tolerance, and skepticism. The individuals are free to decide the extent to which they believe any religious dogma.
“We found that the more authoritarian religions produce more hope and optimism. The questionnaire and analysis of sermons and liturgy showed that fundamentalist individuals were significantly more optimistic and hopeful than moderates, who in turn were more optimistic and hopeful than liberal individuals. The more frequently people participated in fundamentalist religious activities, the less likely they were to report emotional distress,” Professor Seligman says. “A causal model that takes into account religious influence in daily life and the effects of religious involvement, religious hope, and religious liturgy on explanatory style seems to account exhaustively for the effect of fundamentalism on optimism.” Of course, the more religious people might have been more optimistic to start out, but religion only strengthened their optimism. In previous articles I’ve explained that a positive explanatory style is incredibly potent, performing as well as drugs in the treatment of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Are we then saying that to be “successful” that you must pray? No, but the power of prayer and spiritual belief should not be disregarded as meaningless when talking about health and/or success in life.
Dr Leo Kady