The science behind spiritual wellness

Spiritual wellness comes from feeling connected to any force for good that is greater than yourself. And spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, acts of kindness towards others, nature appreciation, and expressions of gratitude are what help to build and strengthen this feeling of connection.

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that engaging in regular spiritual practice significantly improves health outcomes, enhancing physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Spiritual practice and the brain

Brain scan data shows that doing a spiritual practice like meditation or prayer strengthens and improves brain function. Specifically, spiritual practices help to develop a thicker parietal cortex, the part of the brain which protects against depression, substance abuse, and mental illness. In other words, engaging in a spiritual practice “exercises your brain” in ways that lead to a healthier life.

brain scan 1brain scan 2brain scan 3brain scan 4

Brain scan graphics courtesy of Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. Lisa Miller

How spiritual practice protects you

Regular spiritual practice is proven to act as a “shield” against some of humanity’s biggest mental and physical health issues. People who engage in regular spiritual practice are:

80% less likely to experience Substance Dependence or Abuse

60% less likely to have a Major Depressive Disorder

50-80% less likely to attempt Suicide

70%less likely to engage in Risky behavior

Miller, L. (2016) The Spiritual Child;
The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving

A growing list of proven health benefits

Hundreds of research studies now clearly demonstrate that people who build their spiritual wellness by regularly engaging in spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, gratitude practices, and nature immersion greatly improve their physical, emotional, and mental health.

Spiritual wellness is the strongest protective factor against depression known to medical and social sciences

Bull Menninger Clinic, Fall 2013;77(4):332-48

People who are spiritual tend to live longer.

Health Psychology. 2016 Mar; 35(3):203-10

Spirituality can help to reduce the symptoms and feelings of anxiety

- Mental Health Foundation

Spiritual wellness can have a positive impact on mental health.

National Alliance of Mental Illness

People with high spiritual wellness are less likely to become addicted to substances like alcohol or drugs.

- Spirituality and Addiction, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 18:4, 99-109

People with high spiritual wellness are less likely to be depressed.

Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, v.6(3); 2004

Meditation may lower cardiovascular risk.

American Journal of Cardiology

Expressing gratitude can improve your sleep, mood and immunity.

Mayo Clinic

Being in nature improves your physical wellbeing and may even help you live longer.

Lancet, 372(9650), 1655-1660

Case study: The US Army

Based on the growing body of scientific evidence about the benefits of spiritual practice, organizations like the U.S. Army are making spiritual wellness a core component of their health and fitness programs. Alongside physical and mental wellness, spiritual wellness is now part of the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program.

army logo

The US Army’s FM 7-22 field manual defines spiritual readiness as “the ability to endure and overcome times of stress, hardship, and tragedy by making meaning of life experiences.”

Reducing the epidemic of suicide

Regular spiritual practice is shown to reduce the risk of Suicide by up to 80%, and this evidence is seen across different societal groups including teens, army soldiers, and minorities.

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