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The Interaction of Religion and Health

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Abstract

In this chapter, we review what is currently known about the clinical effects of religious and spiritual practices. We also discuss some of the challenges that researchers and healthcare practitioners may face in designing appropriate studies and translating results to clinical practice. Finally, we outline some future directions for research regarding the roles that religion and spirituality play in healthcare.

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... There are very few well-designed large-scale studies. Many publications are purely anecdotes or editorials, which can stimulate discussion but cannot establish causality or scientifically justify the use of specific interventions [157]. The majority of existing studies are correlational, which may be plagued by spurious findings. ...
... Meditation, essentially, is a physiological state of reduced metabolic activity that elicits physical and mental relaxation, and is reported to enhance psychological balance and emotional stability [152][153][154][155][156][157][158][159]. Meditation produces the sense of calm, limited thought and attention. ...
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Interest in spirituality and aging has increased recently, owing to overwhelming evidence of positive health outcomes linked to spirituality and religious participation. Increasing longevity in modern society puts spiritual needs of older adults at the forefront of societal priorities. Understanding individual spiritual perspectives becomes increasingly important, given the issues of loss, physical illness and mortality that are confronted in old age. There are multiple barriers to the proper assessment of spirituality in clinical practice and research (e.g., the lack of professional training for healthcare professionals, shortage of time and comfort for healthcare providers when discussing spiritual issues and needs). Integrating an individuals spiritual practice into their healthcare can help shape personalized medical care for older adults and improve health outcomes. This article reviews literature and research on spirituality, as well as spiritual interventions and their putative neurobiological mechanisms in relation to aging, mental and physical health, and coping with death and dying.
... BDNF is a key component in the brain responsible for synaptic plasticity, dendritic and neuronal fiber growth, and neuronal survival [98]. Most significantly, religious and/or spiritual activity is associated with better cognitive function in old age [99][100][101]. Thus, there are multiple medical, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms by which spiritual fitness might impact AD risk. ...
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Background: Religious and spiritual interventions may have an effect on Alzheimer's disease prevention. Kirtan Kriya meditation has been shown to mitigate the deleterious effects of chronic stress on cognition, reverse memory loss, and create psychological and spiritual wellbeing, which may reduce multiple drivers of Alzheimer's disease risk. Objective: To detail a new concept in medicine called Spiritual Fitness, a merging of stress reduction, basic wellbeing, and psycho/spiritual wellbeing to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Methods: The literature on the topics mentioned above is described, including an in-depth discussion on why and how each are critical to advancing the future of Alzheimer's disease prevention. The many negative effects of chronic stress, and the benefits of Kirtan Kriya, are reviewed. The four pillars of basic wellbeing, six practical aspects of psychological wellbeing, and the four new non-sectarian features of spiritual fitness are then disclosed. Moreover, instructions on practicing Kirtan Kriya are offered in the Supplementary Material. Conclusion: Religious and spiritual practices, including Kirtan Kriya, are crucial components in the development of enhanced cognition and well-being, which may help prevent and, in some cases, reverse cognitive decline. The key point of this review is that making a commitment to live a brain longevity lifestyle including spiritual fitness is critically important way for aging Alzheimer's disease free. We hope that this article will inspire scientists, clinicians, and patients to embrace this new concept of spiritual fitness and make it part of every multidomain program for the prevention of cognitive disability.
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While past research suggests that people experience positive psychological changes after adverse events, little is known about psychological changes that happen after positive events. Adult participants (N = 605) went online to complete a new self-report instrument measuring positive psychological changes linked to positive events, changes that I provisionally call post-ecstatic growth. Factor analysis indicated that this growth happens in four domains: deeper spirituality, increased meaning and purpose in life, improved relationships, and greater self-esteem. Participants were particularly likely to report growth after events that evoked feelings of inspiration and meaning, and events that led them to see new opportunities.
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The present study attempts to measure how individuals define the terms religiousness and spirituality, to measure how individuals define their own religiousness and spirituality, and to examine whether these definitions are associated with different demographic, religio/spiritual, and psychosocial variables. The complete sample of 346 individuals was composed of 11 groups of participants drawn from a wide range of religious backgrounds. Analyses were conducted to compare participants' self-rated religiousness and spirituality, to correlate self-rated religiousness and spirituality with the predictor variables, and to use the predictor variables to distinguish between participants who described themselves as "spiritual and religious" from those who identified themselves as "spiritual but not religious." A content analysis of participants' definitions of religiousness and spirituality was also performed. The results suggest several points of convergence and divergence between the constructs religiousness and spirituality. The theoretical, empirical, and practical implications of these results for the scientific study of religion are discussed.
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In this study, we describe a psychobiological model of the structure and development of personality that accounts for dimensions of both temperament and character. Previous research has confirmed four dimensions of temperament: novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence, and persistence, which are independently heritable, manifest early in life, and involve preconceptual biases in perceptual memory and habit formation. For the first time, we describe three dimensions of character that mature in adulthood and influence personal and social effectiveness by insight learning about self-concepts. Self-concepts vary according to the extent to which a person identifies the self as (1) an autonomous individual, (2) an integral part of humanity, and (3) an integral part of the universe as a whole. Each aspect of self-concept corresponds to one of three character dimensions called self-directedness, cooperativeness, and selftranscendence, respectively. We also describe the conceptual background and development of a self-report measure of these dimensions, the Temperament and Character Inventory. Data on 300 individuals from the general population support the reliability and structure of these seven personality dimensions. We discuss the implications for studies of information processing, inheritance, development, diagnosis, and treatment. (Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1993;50:975-990)
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This book is the sequel to Robert Forman's well-received collection, The Problem of Pure Consciousness (Oxford, 1990). The essays in the earlier volume argued that some mystical experiences do not seem to be formed or shaped by the language system-a thesis that stands in sharp contradistinction to deconstruction in general and to the "constructivist" school of mysticism in particular, which holds that all mysticism is the product of a cultural and linguistic process. In The Innate Capacity, Forman and his colleagues put forward a hypothesis about the formative causes of these "pure consciousness" experiences. All of the contributors agree that mysticism is the result of an innate human capacity, rather than a learned, socially conditioned and constructive process. The innate capacity is understood in several different ways. Many perceive it as an expression of human consciousness per se, awareness itself. Some hold that consciousness should be understood as a built-in link to some hidden, transcendent aspect of the world, and that a mystical experience is the experience of that inherent connectedness. Another thesis that appears frequently is that mystics realize this innate capacity through a process of releasing the hold of the ego and the conceptual system. The contributors here look at mystical experience as it is manifested in a variety of religious and cultural settings, including Hindu Yoga, Buddhism, Sufism, and medieval Christianity. Taken together, the essays constitute an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the nature of human consciousness and mystical experience and its relation to the social and cultural contexts in which it appears.