Research shows spirituality is good for you, mentally and physically. Here’s why you should include it in your life.
You may not think of yourself as a spiritual person. In fact, the word itself might make you think of things like astrology, crystals, and banging on drums. But that’s not what spirituality is about. Spirituality is really about finding a connection to something bigger than yourself.
To practice being spiritual, you look inward and ask yourself questions such as:
- Am I a good person?
- What’s the meaning of my suffering?
- What’s my connection to the world around me?
- Do things happen for a reason?
- How can I live my life in the best way possible?
Spirituality means different things to different people. You may find it by going to your local house of worship for services. Other people experience it when they spend time in nature or do yoga. There’s no right or wrong way to experience spirituality. It all depends on what’s meaningful for you.
“Every one of us is born with a hard-wired capacity for spiritual life,” Lisa Miller, PhD, Director of the Spirituality & Mind Body Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of “The Awakened Brain” told ABC News in 2021. “Spirituality is part of our human composition. We are all spiritual beings.”
Here’s a closer look at the health benefits of spirituality, plus ways to include it in your life (no woo-woo crystals required!).
Health benefits of spirituality
Here are five ways you may benefit by introducing spirituality into your life.
You may boost your immune system.
Another study found that people who attended religious services at least once a week were less likely to have high blood levels of interleukin-6, a protein that can make people more susceptible to disease. One reason may be that when you do something spiritual, it reduces stress. When you’re less stressed, you’re less likely to get sick.
You may be in a better mood.
Spirituality can reduce symptoms of depression, too. One theory is it actually causes changes in your brain that help you handle your emotions and deal with stress. It’s also a way to become more connected with yourself, others, and the things around you.
You’ll be more likely to just “let it go.”
Practicing spirituality helps you let go of blame and negative feelings. That means you’re less likely to obsess if someone cuts you off in traffic or your neighbor plays his music too loud. Forgiving and moving on is good for your health: it can lower your blood pressure and boost your heart health.
You may make healthier choices.
Research shows that people who are spiritual are less likely to smoke, drink, or commit a crime. Spiritual people are also more likely to engage in healthful practices, like wearing a seatbelt and taking vitamins.
You may live longer.
A pair of studies from Ohio State University showed that people with a religious affiliation lived from four to six years longer than people without one. Only a small part of this longevity gap could be explained by social engagement and activity level.
Ways to add spirituality to your life
Here are some ways to find spirituality, with activities that speak to you.
This practice can make you feel calm and clear-headed. It may also improve your concentration and attention. To try it, sit or lie down in a comfortable position (it shouldn’t be too comfortable, since you don’t want to fall asleep!). Close your eyes. Try to empty your mind. Of course you’ll have thoughts, and that’s okay. Try not to push them aside or pursue them. Instead, just let them drift in and out of your mind.
Now think of a word. It can be anything that makes you feel good. Focus on breathing. When you exhale, say the word in your mind. This will help force negative thoughts out of your brain.
Praying can help you to feel hopeful, grateful, compassionate, and relaxed. Your prayer doesn’t have to be religious . It can be any words that mean something to you, whether you make them up yourself or use something you read in a book. Read or say those words several times. One good option, from the University of Minnesota:
- May I be at peace
- May my heart remain open
- May I awaken to the light of my own true nature
- May I be healed
- May I be a source of healing for all beings
This centuries-old spiritual practice uses specific postures and breathing techniques. One of the most spiritual forms of yoga is Kundalini yoga, which involves chanting, singing, breathing exercises, and repetitive poses. Look for a class at your local gym or senior center.
This is often overlooked as a spiritual practice, but it’s a good way for you to become more aware of your inner life. Writing down your thoughts can help you feel more connected to yourself and the world around you. In fact, studies show that if you journal during a tough time in your life, it can help you find meaning and become more resilient for the future.
If your house of worship–whether it’s a church, synagogue, or mosque–speaks to you, then services there may meet your spiritual needs. Your house of worship can also be a source of social support, which has been shown to improve your health, mood, and even your life expectancy.
Medicare and spirituality
Did you know many Medicare Advantage plans include coverage of fitness programs like yoga? Check your plan to see what in-person and online classes are available. Medicare Advantage plans also cover mental health benefits. This means if you see a therapist who works with you on spiritual-based strategies like meditation or journaling, it may be covered.
- ClearMatch Medicare: Find a Medicare Plan
- ABC News: Video Science shows spirituality helps 'awaken' your brain, author says
- Duke Health: Attending Religious Service May Improve Immune Status
- University of Houston: Spiritual Meditation
- University of Minnesota: Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing: Prayer
- University of Minnesota: Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing: Why Is Spirituality Important?
- Medical News Today: Religious Belief May Extend Life by Four Years