Making predictions about a person's physical and mental well-being may be as simple as asking them where they were on the Sabbath.
A recent article from The Atlantic explores the variety of ways leaving a religious community impacts an individual's health, highlighting the support groups and other therapy options available to "deconverts," or people who quit religion.
Treatment might be necessary, the article explained, because "many who leave religion in America become isolated from their former communities, which can make them anxious, depressed or even suicidal."
As The Telegraph reported in 2010, these negative side effects largely stem from loss of access to a religion's support structures, such as intrafaith friendships.
The Atlantic noted that the effects of leaving a church vary according to how a person characterizes his relationship to religion. "The end of a positive religious experience can lead to a decrease in health. … But leaving a negative religious experience may be a way to boost health," the article reported.
The key takeaway is that religion's influence goes beyond the spiritual to include aspects of physical health, a phenomenon that has been in the news several times in the past few years. Here are some ways faith has been shown to impact personal well-being:
1. Church attendance increases life expectancy.
In 2013, T.M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, explained the boost religion can give to a person's lifespan in a column for The New York Times. She highlighted how regular attendance at worship services, as well as strong personal faith, is shown to decrease blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. According to Luhrmann, these benefits are likely linked to religion's discouragement of unhealthy behaviors like smoking and substance abuse.
2. Religious belief brings with it a higher sense of purpose.
In a 2013 scholarly article (subscription required) on "the existential effects of belief," Stephen Cranney at the University of Pennsylvania investigated the relationship between living a purpose-driven life and professing religious belief. He found that "those who hold a firm belief in God stand out from all others for their having a higher sense of purpose," Deseret News National reported.
3. High religiosity leads to healthy living.
Tracking behaviors like smoking, healthy eating and exercise among Americans, Gallup determined in 2010 that the most religious respondents were also the healthiest. The "very religious" group — defined by their regular attendance at worship services — were shown to score eight points higher than the nonreligious on the Gallup's "Healthy Behavior Index."
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