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Religion, Spirituality, And Health: The Research And Clinical Implications

Harold G. Koenig

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This paper provides a concise but comprehensive review of research on religion/spirituality (R/S) and both mental health and physical health. It is based on a systematic review of original data-based quantitative research published in peer-reviewed journals between 1872 and 2010, including a few seminal articles published since 2010. First, I provide a brief historical background to set the stage. Then I review research on R/S and mental health, examining relationships with both positive and negative mental health outcomes, where positive outcomes include well-being, happiness, hope, optimism, and gratefulness, and negative outcomes involve depression, suicide, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, delinquency/crime, marital instability, and personality traits (positive and negative). I then explain how and why R/S might influence mental health. Next, I review research on R/S and health behaviors such as physical activity, cigarette smoking, diet, and sexual practices, followed by a review of relationships between R/S and heart disease, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, immune functions, endocrine functions, cancer, overall mortality, physical disability, pain, and somatic symptoms. I then present a theoretical model explaining how R/S might influence physical health. Finally, I discuss what health professionals should do in light of these research findings and make recommendations in this regard.