We are all part of a generation that seeks to find answers to healthy living in the hope of extending an active and involved life.
I’m happy to say that the role of religious and spiritual practice in healthy aging is gaining momentum.
A recent article and a new book give more evidence that spirituality really does help us feel better longer.
One interesting take on healthy aging appeared in a recent issue of Generations, the journal of the American Society on Aging.
Dr. Andrew Newberg directs a Center for Integrative Medicine at Philadelphia’s Jefferson University. He researches the brain and the impact of spiritual issues and activities on the brain. His article “Spirituality and the Aging Brain” (Generations. Vol. 35. Number 2. Summer 2011. p. 83) joins a growing list of such articles that trace studies linking healthy aging and religious life. It seems, according to Dr. Newberg and other scholars at such places as Duke, that belonging to and involvement with religious communities does impact longevity and health. So, yes, go join a synagogue and get involved!
Newberg writes that: “Religiosity may confer benefits for some individuals. Religious service attendance is predictive of higher life satisfaction among elders…Hope and optimism seemed to run higher among religious individuals than non religious individuals in some study populations…there appears to be an array of benefits from religious and spiritual practices and experiences that benefit physical and mental health.” (p. 87. 88).
This should not some as too much of a surprise. After all, as a devotee of the “theology of relationships”, it is easy to see that surrounding one’s self with people and activity has to be of greater benefit than a life of isolation. Newberg traces studies that look at spiritual practices as well. He notes that not only prayer can be of benefit, but also such spiritual practices as meditation can have a health promoting impact on each of us as we age.
A book I recently read looked at this from a non-scientific perspective.
Lewis Richmond’s Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser (Gotham Books. NYC. 2012, purchase below) spends a lot of time examining the value of meditation.
Richmond includes the following observation that in his examination of hundreds of scientific articles he was “stunned” to discover that “those who attend religious services at least once a week tend to survive seven years longer than those who don’t.” (p. 93) Part of this was not only attending services but also included the component of service to others. Again, the power of relationships and community in a sacred setting seems to promote a healthy life and longevity.
I mention these two examples because they reflect again the need for all of us to re-connect with something beyond our own self.
The world, despite our age, keeps getting more complicated. Technology runs amok and seems to control our lives.
Yet, in our own searches for meaning and places to “connect” with people rather than gigabytes, it seems that our own sacred communities provide that foundation of faith and relationships that can provide us with pathways to health and spiritual growth.
This is, in the end, not such a bad thing.
Rabbi Richard F Address. D.Min