Spirituality occurs when you recognize a “why” in your life or perceive things with your inner heart. It’s a sense of the mystery of life, a belief that there is more to life than what you can see or fully understand. As on researcher in the field noted “Spirituality is the ability to stand outside of ourselves and consider the meaning of our actions, the complexity of our motives, and the impact we have on the world itself.” That could be religion… or not.
Spirituality is also strongly connected with resilience and successful aging. For instance, a spiritual outlook on life enables you to focus beyond the physical disabilities because the spiritual perception views such functioning as just one aspect of living. It also helps you answer and cope with the question of “Why me?” when bad things happen because it helps you view yourself as part of something bigger, not the center of the world.
A spiritual perspective also helps you cope with situations you can’t control, a key component of stress. If you view the world bigger than yourself and admit to the existence of some “greater power,” whether it’s God or something else, it becomes easier to relinquish control.
Spirituality also focuses your mind on the present, emphasizing mindfulness over the rushing and focus on the future that are so much a part of modern life. Finally, a spiritual perspective recognizes the importance of social support in terms of both giving and receiving. All have been found to improve overall health and well-being and to help people age better, regardless of any physical or mental disabilities.
For instance, one study of 400 elderly Brazilians found that those who perceived their health to be good or very good were 5 times more likely to be “aging successfully” than those who perceived their health as bad. However, those who said their personal beliefs gave meaning to their lives were 10 times more likely to be classified as aging successfully.
Other studies of older adults find that attending religious services once a week significantly reduces levels of inflammatory markers in the blood and leads to lower death levels over a 12-year period regardless of a person’s weight, diseases, social support, depression, or age.
Scottish researchers from the University of Dundee found that people who had strong religious beliefs were less likely to be lonely in older age (and you know how important that is!). While Canadian researchers found that older people who participated in church-related activities were much healthier overall over a six-year period than those who didn’t take part in such activities. In fact, other researchers found that once-a-week churchgoers had lower blood pressure, less abdominal fat, higher HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and lower levels of inflammatory stress hormones than people who skipped Sunday services.
For many, spirituality and organized religion are one and the same – but they needn’t be. A passion for nature; a belief in healing energy; faith in science and natural laws of existence; or merely a strong sense of good versus evil can all provide purpose and direction in your life. What ultimately matters to your health isn’t what you believe in but merely that you believe in something with your heart and soul.
If you think having spirituality may be important for you, check out my next blog on Friday that will contain suggestions that you may find useful in growing your personal spirituality.
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