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“Chuck, in your C-Force health and fitness article last week, you quickly cited a Stanford University Professor, who proposed that going to church was good for one’s health. You never mentioned why. So, why?” – J.L. in Bozeman, Mont.

T.M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, called it, “One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years.”

Dr. Luhrmann, also the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God,” explained in the New York Times: “Religious attendance … boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”

pDr. Luhrmann believes there are three reasons for those physical benefits.

The first is social support. But Dr. Luhrman was referring to more than mere Sunday attendance. Rather, religious community interaction and involvement. At the churches she studied, people cared for one another, bore one another’s burdens, ate together, prayed together, encouraged one another, met one another’s needs, etc.

Dr. Luhrmann noted, “And we know that social support is directly tied to better health.”

The second reason Dr. Luhrmann explained was that believers led healthier lifestyles. Though churchgoers struggled with weaknesses like anyone else, she wrote that, “on average, regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others.”

She explained that the third reason church attendance led to better health was that one’s belief system in God cultivated one’s experientially based thinking about him. Having faith in God exercises one’s trust and relationship with God.

Dr. Luhrmann addressed how faith produces health: “I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier – at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health.”

She elaborated, “For example, in one study, when God was experienced as remote or not loving, the more someone prayed, the more psychiatric distress she seemed to have; when God was experienced as close and intimate, the more someone prayed, the less ill he was. In another study, at a private Christian college in Southern California, the positive quality of an attachment to God significantly decreased stress and did so more effectively than the quality of the person’s relationships with other people.”

Of course, Dr. Luhrmann is not alone in her opinions about the positive role of spirituality, and some press the point even further.

As reported in a must-read 2009 Time article, “The Biology of Belief,” social demographer Robert Hummer of the University of Texas, who has been following a population of subjects since 1992, discovered “results (that) are hard to argue with. Those who never attend religious services have twice the risk of dying over the next eight years as people who attend once a week. People who fall somewhere between no churchgoing and weekly churchgoing also fall somewhere between in terms of mortality.”

Moreover, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a professor of radiology, psychology and religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Penn’s Center for Spirituality and the Mind, explained, “A large body of science shows a positive impact of religion on health. The way the brain works is so compatible with religion and spirituality, that we’re going to be enmeshed in both for a long time.”

Spirituality was deemed so powerful that Dr. Gail Ironson, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Miami who studies HIV and religious belief, offered this positive commentary on its comparable nature to medicine: “Even accounting for medications, spirituality predicts for better disease control.”

And if you’re wondering which came first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, does spirituality and church produce healthier people or do healthy people merely attend church?

I would refer to another 30-year study conducted by Human Population Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., as reported in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail.

Lead researcher Dr. William Strawbridge explained, “Our analyses indicate that attendees did not all start off with such good behaviors. To some extent, their good health behavior occurred in conjunction with their attendance.”

According to the Daily Mail, Dr. Strawbridge’s study “proved for the first time that churches, synagogues, mosques or Buddhist monasteries helped create good health behavior, rather than simply attracting people who already took better care of themselves.”

Dr. Strawbridge’s analysis also confirmed that those who attended services regularly led more disciplined lifestyles, took physical exercise more serious, were more in control of their weight, experienced less depression, had stronger immune systems, had lower blood pressure, smoked and drank less and even maintained stable marriages compared to non-attendees.

Facing Christmas and New Years, this is a great reminder for all of us. We’re holistic and spiritual beings, not just bodies. So take care of your spiritual self, too.

In fact, that’s exactly why God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth: to heal our spirits. He was a baby born into the world with a destiny to die for all of humankind. (For more reflection on that, I recommend Lee Strobel’s little booklet, “A Case for Christmas” or online at PeaceWithGod.org).

From my wife, Gena, and me, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years!

(In Part 2, I will not only discuss the non-bodily benefits of spiritual disciplines, but also why holistic health could be one of your greatest New Year’s goals.)

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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