The Secret To Reducing Stress: Balancing Life

The Secret To Reducing Stress: A Balanced Life

A statement by the well-known mind/body physician, Herb Benson, M.D. says that 60-90% of all visits to the doctor’s office are due to stress. We all hear about stress, experience stress, but what exactly is stress? Most of us think of stress as the emotional conflicts we experience in our daily lives, but our emotions are just one category or one type of “event” that can cause us to experience stress.

In order for us to survive in our ever-changing environments, our bodies are designed to adapt and it does so through a series of biochemical reactions. These chemical reactions are natural and necessary, but they are the wear and tear of living that we call stress.

Here’s an example I like to share in relations to because it gives a clear vision of this principle. When I was living in New York City, I drove my little stick shift through the stop and go traffic. Imagine the wear and tear (stress) on the clutch.

There are many events that might cause similar stress to our bodies. Some may surprise you.

  • Weather
  • Excess Exertion (such as too much exercise or lack of sleep)
  • Trauma or Injuries
  • Allergies and Immune Insults
  • Infections
  • Reproduction Related Events (monthly cycle, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, etc.)

While the common nature of these events does not sound encouraging, there is some good news. If we have a stress response that is short term, like when the phone rings and the nurse tells you that your child had been vomiting, our bodies do just fine.

It is the prolonged stress, like anticipating for two whole weeks a root canal or that pesky “annual office evaluation.” That does us in! This extended stress affects our digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular and even reproductive systems. Couple this with poor eating habits or insufficient sleep, and we are not happy campers.

While excessive or chronic stress is definitely not good for our health, we need stress adaptation for survival, so it is actually a very good thing. How this adaptation takes place is by way of specialized hormones from our adrenal glands, located in our kidneys. They change our heart rate, blood pressure, lung capacity, and a host of other functions, for our survival. However, these hormones, if secreted too much or too often can suppress our immune, digestive and reproductive systems and even damage our cardiovascular system. Chronic stress is one very large reason why some of us have fertility problems.

So how can we make friends with stress? The answer is good old moderation. Remember being told “all things in moderation leads to a healthy body.” It is true. We do not have to learn to do anything exotic to reduce stress, we just need to balance our lives and avoid excess.

Nevertheless, there is the rub, given modern life. We are all excessing more and more and moderating less. For a great book on this subject, check out Why Zebras Don’t Have Ulcers by Dr. Robert Sapolsky. It is a very witty and informative book. Laugher, as we know, is “our best medicine.” It is also a great stress reducer.

 


For more whole health discussions like this, listen to my weekly radio show Living Above The Drama available on iHeartRadio.

 

 

How You Can Shape Meaningful Relationships In the Workplace

How You Can Shape Meaningful Relationships In the Workplace

Some of us may not realize just how important it is to shape meaningful relationships in the workplace. Without the support or cooperation of those with whom we spend a significant amount of our time, our job performance and certainly our work satisfaction can suffer. Several studies have shown that difficult office relationships impair performance and decrease morale even more seriously than rumors of employee layoffs.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours working. And as a result, we spend the majority of our time with our co-workers. Just as with other people in our lives with whom we interact on a regular basis, our co-workers need to be viewed as important and essential parts of our “life support” group. Cultivating respectful, considerate relationships with our co-workers is good for our health and our work performance. It creates a positive and friendly environment where we spend a majority of our time.

Here are some easy ways to make the work environment nicer, friendlier and more positive place:

Avoid gossiping: No one wants to be gossiped about. If you don’t gossiping about others, your co-workers will get the message that you do not wish to “stir the stink” about them and they will respect your integrity and treat you likewise. If someone starts to gossip with you, simply respond: “Really?” Then change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Reducing gossip effectively enhances the work environment and your reputation.

Show genuine interest: One of the nicest experiences is having someone show interest in the things that interest us. It makes us feel valued and builds rapport and trust. If you are aware of co-worker’s interests and happen to run across something pertaining to those subjects, giving them information or helpful articles can really make their day and enhance your working relationships.

Give credit where credit is due: Embrace the win-win attitude and always give credit where credit is due. If people have worked hard and made a huge contribution to a project, they should be recognized and applauded for their efforts. Nothing is more uplifting than being recognized for our contributions and the value we bring to our work. By supporting and appreciating co-workers, you create for them and for yourself a cooperative and trustworthy environment that encourages them to continue to do their best.

Competition can be healthy, but not when it results in giving credit to the wrong people or not recognizing excellence in others.


For more life-changing, whole health discussions like this, listen to my weekly radio show Living Above The Drama available on iHeartRadio.

A Healthy Love Affair With Pets

While it may be difficult to get large numbers of Americans to collectively agree on any issue, it seems that when it comes to pets and the value we place on them, there is little disagreement. The 2015-2016 American Pet Products Association survey reported that an astounding 65% of all American households have a pet living with them.

An identified 79.7% of all households have dogs – over 100 million of them. Cat owner households total 42.9 million, while dogs make up 54.4. Fresh water fish, birds, reptiles and horses, along with small animals such as rabbits, hamsters, and others make up another 25 – 27 million pets. Americans, it seems, have also come to view and treat their pets in human terms. No longer satisfied with relegating the family pet to its own domain, today’s pet lovers are demanding the highest quality products and services for those they love.

The idea of buying a simple dog chew or catnip toy now takes a backseat to designer sweaters and jewelry for our beloved companions. The current trend of dog hotels instead of kennels, indoor animal toilets, perfume and even pet trench coats have flooded the marketplace. A hugely popular service “doggie dates” and exotic animal sitting services have also found their way into today’s pet economy.

For the most passionate pet lovers, faux mink coats, lumberjack vests, designer jackets, matching jeweled leather collars and leash sets, Halloween costumes, and holiday outfits are becoming part of the new “pet fashion.” Safety seats for transporting pets in vehicles are also becoming popular. Still, one of the larger pet expenditures is for pet food.

These days the pet food aisle looks strikingly similar to the rest of the “human food” aisles in chain grocery stores. Specialized, balanced gourmet meals are readily available in the refrigerator section as well as all variations of animal treats, vitamins and supplements. Special diet foods for the senior pet population offer life extension and prolonged health.

Pet dental care, tooth brushes, mouth wash, braces to correct crooked bites, and even cosmetic dental surgery are all available to the concerned pet lover. There are also pet lovers who are having their animals’ vasectomies reversed and paying for cosmetic surgery to enhance their pet’s beauty.

Expenditures on pets by their household for 2015-16 was in excess of 62.75 billion dollars. It is easy to imagine that this number must be a mistake as this is more money being spent on pets in the United State than the gross national product numbers for all but 64 countries around the world. This 62.75 billion dollar figure also represents almost double the approximately $35 billion dollars Americans spend on going to movies, video games, or for listening to recorded music.

healthy love affair with petsThe approximate 20% of non-pet households are for the most part made up of individuals with allergies, who live in apartments or living environments that do not welcome pets and those who have no time left in their over-scheduled lives to care for a pet. It seems people of all ages, ranging from infants to very elderly enjoy and welcome the company of pets. The presence of pets is so population today, that nursing facilities have therapy pets at the facility on a regular basis. The one downside to this practice is that sometimes the residents start arguing and competing over who gets to keep the cat, dog or bird with them for the day.

Our pets love us unconditionally. They listen to us when we speak, provide companionship without politics or the agenda of most relationships. They accept our love and affection the way we chose to give it without complaint and they provide us in return with affection and loyalty.

hey are the ultimate loving family member and we are now treating them as such; can anyone blame us? Social networking has become the way we communicate and “do” relationships. These days it is often over e-mails and text messages that we are starting relationships or ending them, sharing major life events –  even proposing marriage. The intimate contact of human connections we had even 15 years ago before the dominance of the internet and cell phones is being replaced by our pets.

Pets are not only beloved companions, but are also taking on the role of healers. Dogs have been long known for their service as seeing eye dogs, but the use of dogs and other pets in many areas of healing and health monitoring are becoming more widely spread. Dogs who alert their companions for seizures or “sniff out” cancer or horses that assist with helping autistic children to interact with others are easily found on the news or the internet.

A recent study by researcher Dr. Karen Allen, at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She identified that individuals suffering from hypertension after adopting a dog or cat had lower blood pressure reading in stressful situations than their counterparts who did not have a pet companion. The National Institute of Technology Assessment Workshop: Health Benefits of Pets identified that pets provide greater psychological stability which protects not only from heart disease and other stress related conditions but also reduces depression. In the same study pets have been shown to lower the cost of health care as individuals with pets make fewer doctor visits, especially “for non-serious medical conditions.”

A Perdue University study demonstrated that when seniors face traumas of adversity, the affection received by their pets and the bond between them helps prevent depression and loneliness. As a means of enhancing our psychological and physical well-being, pets have the power to love us, heal us and help us to live longer. If only we could get other humans to do so with the same honesty and loyalty that our pet companions provide.

 

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References

http://www.vet.purdue.edu/cpb/faculty_profiles/beck_alan.html  (Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship)

http://center4research.org/healthy-living-prevention/pets-and-health-the-impact-of-companion-animals/

http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp

Thinking Outside The Box When It Comes To Healing

Thinking Outside The Box When It Comes To Healing

Many of us don’t realize how much of a role environment, emotional state and spirituality play in our current health status. Understanding these connections can be especially helpful during the peak of cold and flu season. To fully grasp this “cause-and-effect,” it’s a good idea to have a larger perspective on the following contributing factors to illness.

Emotions

The late psychologist Abraham Maslow, Ph. D., said that aside from basic survival and safety needs, we possess an innate drive to belong, develop self-esteem and actualize our authentic selves. While it might seem that exposure to more people is an invitation for illness, a study found the exact opposite: According to the researchers, people with one to three social “roles,” such as a parent, child and friend, are more than four times as likely to get sick than those with six or more social roles.

This may stem from the relationship between your immune system and the self-esteem you get from your interactions with others. The more positive social interactions you experience, the greater your self-esteem and the more you enhance your immune system’s functions.

Spirituality

Spirituality can be broadly defined as the things you hold important and sacred, and the relationships you form with others and with the world around you. Boundary setting is one of the most important aspects of spirituality; it is especially important if you want to create a meaningful and fulfilling life.

The boundaries you set are codes of conduct relating to how you behave toward yourselves and others. For instance, how you eat, work, exercise, and live all reflect your individual boundaries. All of these actions have a profound effect on your health and sense of well-being.

Environment

Your body actually has two distinct environments that interact with one another: the internal, and the external. This is something you should always be mindful of. In the external environment there are sources of noise, stress, toxicity, temperature and mood affecting weather, and volumes of work or exertion to complete. All of these things affect your health directly by influencing the nervous system and your immune systems.

Internally, your body’s chemical environment has a large bearing on weather germs are allowed or prevented from inhabiting your bloodstream. This makes it important to consider the ways your internal environment is manipulated by the foods you select, your sleep cycles, and the kinds of thoughts you allows to take up residence in your mind. Both positive and negative ideas can have a big influence on your choices and behaviors each day.

When all is said and done, illness can be caused by a wealth of seemingly insignificant factors that affect the whole person. Various strains of colds and viruses have different dimensions. This is because humans are also multidimensional. Recognizing this fosters the understanding and application of emotional, spiritual, and environmental cause and effects of sickness. This comprehension and practice allows you to prevent colds and flus from affecting you.

 

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Pitfalls of Forgetting To Heal The Whole Person

pitfalls of forgetting to heal the whole person

In this week’s blog, I would like to begin  unwrapping the problems and pitfalls with forgetting to heal the whole person in an effort to establish true and effective wellness. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the words “specialty” or “specialize” in the healthcare field, I would be a very wealthy woman. These are among the latest buzzwords and for good reason. Given the increased competition and expansion of healthcare options, specialization – even among “natural” or “alternative” health care providers—has emerged as the way to stand out in today’s consumerist economy.

Thanks to a combination of the Internet, increased communication, and a fast-paced economy, competing for the health consumer is only expected to become more and more commonplace in the decade. What is getting abandoned in the clamor to remain competitive as a health provider in either the allopathic or alternative fields is the quality of care.

What once distinguished “alternative” health care providers—mindful and respectful listening to the individual and being present in a way that addressed their needs as a whole person—has gradually been replaced by practicing or promoting the specialty that we have been trained and are experts at.

Critics of allopathic medicine have for a long time pointed to the specialization and fragmentation of health care services as the “demon” preventing the creation of an integrated, whole person health care system. Yet we see alternatives to allopathic medicine being practiced in an identically fragmented, specialized way.

The applications of nutrition, herbs, energy healing, body alignment, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, and so forth, are primarily offered to the consumer without an integral whole picture of how healing takes place. Specifically, how our body functions as an integrated, homeostatic living being and how the specialty sciences that we call “alternative healing modalities” enhance or assist the function of our overall health on a physical, emotional, nutritional, environmental or spiritual level. The modalities of alternative care are now being offered in the same way medical specialties have been over for years; now, we just have more items on the menu to choose from.

It is also concerning is that alternative health care practitioners seem no better educated in integrated anatomy and physiology than most allopathic practitioners. One of the legitimate criticisms of alternative health care is the lack of evidence-based knowledge on the part of the practitioner to explain the effective outcomes from their application. Alternative practitioners, like their allopathic counterpart who focuses on prescription writing as a cure, are woefully uneducated in the evidence-based sciences of human anatomy and physiology as well as lacking an authentic education and understanding in whole person science.

When I opened my practice in the early 1970’s the alternative practitioner was often seen by the suffering individual who sought their assistance as “an angel of mercy.” Today, it’s quite a different story. It is a sad testimony to the popularity of alternative health care that in the dawn of the 21st century people are more confused, less informed and even less aware of how their bodies work and how to take care of themselves over their lifetime than they were thirty years ago!

Today I repeatedly overhear people confiding that they are disappointed with the alternative health care profession, and feel that there is the same focus on selling product or treatment plans as there has been in the medical practices they used to turn to. No longer do alternative practitioners spend the time they once did explaining and demystifying the process of disease and the cause and effect of where it comes from, but rather are busy selling the latest product of their trade or re-scheduling people for their next ten visits of care. Economic success has come to alternative health care and with it the same issues that have plagued the practice of allopathic medicine for many years. Success is a strange bedfellow. If we lose the very essence that crafted our field then we have lost our personal and professional integrity.

The philosophical foundation of alternative health care is the knowledge and ability to address the whole person rather than just one isolated aspect of health. The five aspects of health include the physical, environmental, spiritual, nutritional and emotional. The specialization of alternative health care attacks the very core of this practice.

Modern practitioners are continuously specializing in physical areas of the body or specific conditions or diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome or environmental allergies. This specialization is creating isolation where practitioners are failing to treat the whole person. Countless studies have shown the effectiveness of treating the whole person in a relationship-centered, education-focused model of practice.

In our roles, whether as allopathic, alternative or holistic health practitioners, whole health coaches, or holistic nurses, we must establish and promote a practice of treating the entire person and addressing the bigger picture of their illness or presentation. Given rapidly rising chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, it is our duty to remain true to this integral approach to healing and serve our patients in the way they want and need us to.

I encourage this initiative to health practitioners across the country: Fight specialization and favor treating the Whole Person. It is only with such an approach that we can begin to solve that which ails us.

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.
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Research Reveals The Purpose Of Your Emotions

research reveals purpose of emotions

Most of us perceive the brain as being for thinking, or intellectual functions. We often think of ourselves, our personality, as what is going on in those intellectual functions from the neck up. In fact, there are several parts to our brain that contribute to who we are and how we form our personality, not just our intellectual cortex. In this way, the purpose/role of emotions is far more complex than meets the eye.

The cortex is what we refer to as our smart brain. Most of us know individuals who are brilliant academically or intellectually, yet they can be emotionally dysfunctional almost in the extreme. We often presume erroneously that our thinking brain should be “smart” enough to exercise dominion over our emotions.

However, the missing piece of information here is that our emotions actually are a survival adaptation mechanism that each of us develops as we process our early environment and social conditioning.

Aggressive Or Passive?
Some of us learn to be assertive or aggressive in our environments to adapt, and some of us learn to become passive or try to become invisible to stay safe and secure. Nothing is more powerful in the human being than the drive to survive. Hence, our emotions win in the battle between thinking and feeling.

It is helpful to understand that our emotions represent how we learned to adapt in our surroundings and environment, especially during the first five years of our development. Our familial input taught us, as it did Ivan Pavlov’s dogs, how to respond to the stimuli we received as infants and toddlers.

Embedded Conditioning
This embedded neurological conditioning is not overcome by thought processes; the thought process for humans is the newest component to our primitive, or primordial, brain. But it is in the survival adaptive portion of our brain that we form our personality and that we become conditioned to create and interact within relationships.

You have to understand that the interpersonal issues that can frustrate you may come from your drive to survive and the conditioned responses to the stimulation and environment you have experienced. They do not stem from a desire to be difficult or bad intent. Realize this and you can begin to be kinder and gentler toward yourself and others.

Our emotions are the way we learn to live and survive in our world. We cannot think them into changing, but we can step back and appreciate the service and challenge they offer us in our daily lives. We can also explore techniques that allow us to have greater control over our emotions. For a free chapter download on brain function and behavior, visit changingbehavior.org.

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What Nonverbal Communication Are You Sending?

What Nonverbal Communication Are You sending?

Albert Merhabien, the famed communication researcher, stated that nonverbal communication makes up almost 93 percent of all the “messages” we receive from other individuals. Others suggest that it is actually more like 60 percent to 70 percent of nonverbal communication that lets us know what others are really feeling.

What we know about how the brain and body work is that all thoughts and feelings are ways that we cope with surviving in our world and that, for many of us, not revealing our feelings and instead holding them back may be the “safe” way to cope with others at work, at home and in general.

Inside The Brain

What is also well understood is that there are “tells,” or neurological expressions of these withheld, nonverbal communications, that are going on inside of our brains. Even though we may not consciously or intentionally express verbally or physically how we feel, our brain/body connection does express these thoughts and feelings in nonverbal ways. These nonverbal ways are the “tells” that police and other professionals use to decide if someone is withholding information.

Many studies have been done on the subject of body language and nonverbal communication. It is important for all of us to become aware of how our physical and verbal or nonverbal behavior impacts others, especially those who spend the most time in our environment.

Nonverbal communication can often cause one individual in a relationship to become upset if he feels he is seeing or interpreting nonverbal actions by his partner as being rejecting or disinterested. Often, before a relationship breaks up, one partner suspects the relationship is in trouble because of a lack of eye contact or verbal communication or because of hostile body language, such as the crossing of arms or legs, in response to communication attempts.

Scientific Insights

There is a science to nonverbal communication interpretation, as well as a science to understanding the best way to express our feelings and how the way we do that can result in a positive or negative outcome. The science is directly related to neurological and neurotransmitter connections between thoughts and feelings in the brain and their communication to the muscles and nerves in the rest of our body.

If you would like more information on this subject, you can download a free chapter from Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by going to www.changingbehavior.org.

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.
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Establish These Three Behaviors To Improve Your Life

The most important relationship we have is with ourselves. The way we think, eat, behave and use our resources define the quality of life we live. We all want to thrive and enjoy a healthy fulfilling life. Yet, in our over scheduled, frenzied personal environments and ever encroaching culture, the simple, basic, no-cost behaviors that will better our lives and foster an excellent relationship with ourselves are often overlooked.

Here is a list of 3 simple behaviors any of us can do immediately to improve and restore our well-being and enhance our health.

1. Buy with Cash

Over the last 5 years, most of us have had a reality check regarding the corrosive nature of debt. It can cause stress, anxiety and sleepless nights, robbing us of our well-being and causing us to lose control over our relationship with money. One of the fastest and easiest ways of “turning the ship around” when it comes to debt is to commit to using only cash for purchases and cutting up the credit cards.

While we can have an emergency card or line of credit squirreled away for a real emergency, by reining in our spending habits and eliminating debt, we can do more for our sense of well-being and health than following the latest health trends and starting an exercise program. Yes, it’s true – reducing and eliminating the crushing stress of debt accumulation is the number one act of self-care we all need to commit to. Studies show that chronic stress and worry will make us sicker and even cause life threatening events such as stroke and heart attack more so than any other lifestyle behavior.

Also, by paying in cash you are more aware of what you are actually spending and have the opportunity to ask yourself: “Do I really need to make this purchase?”

2. Clean out Your Closets

In our consumer-driven environment, we are invited daily to buy, buy, buy and can find ourselves living with closets, attics and basements overflowing with “stuff.” Much of this stuff we do not even use and may not even remember we have.

One of the most satisfying experiences is to clean out closets, drawers, basements, attics, garages, storage areas, and so forth. Thin out all the excess material possessions we have and do not need or use. Giving things away to the local “swap shop” or donating these unnecessary belongings to Goodwill or the Salvation Army will not only free up room and space in our homes, but will also provide a greater sense of control over your living space as well as provide a sense of orderliness and cleanliness – all good things for our health and happiness.

3. Post Your Life Goals and Affirmations

We all have goals and dreams we want to realize. One of the fastest, proven ways to achieve those goals and manifest our dreams is to write them down and post them throughout our whole working and living environments. Take the most urgent and important goal you have at this time and focus on it daily, using post-its or other reminders of what you want to manifest.

This no cost, proven method for creating the things we want in our lives can become an excellent life-long behavior. When one goal is realized or achieved, we can identify the next important goal and work on that specifically, using our desire and unconscious mind to manifest our dreams. After all, thoughts really are “things.” By repeatedly thinking on something, we can create it into reality.

Everything was a thought before it became a reality – the chair you are sitting on was a thought in someone’s mind before it was created. We can and do create our lives with our thoughts – so post away and realize your goals.

For more information about this topic, you can access a free excerpt from the bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by visiting www.ChangingBehavior.org

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.
888-354-4325 Take charge of your health

Take The First Step Towards Happiness

Take The First Step Towards Happiness

With such a strong emphasis on achievement, accumulation and recognition in our society, it is easy to become discouraged or disappointed with who or what we perceive ourselves to be, especially in how we stack up in the “pecking order” with those around us. Being happy with yourself is a choice that each of us can make every day by taking simple, practical steps to develop habits of happiness.

Take the first step towards happiness right now. It starts with creating an environment to work and live in that reduces stress and workload and brings order and ease, making your work and living easier. This uplifting environment can also provide the experience of soothing tranquility rather than focusing on the disorder and chaos that often become the working and living environments we find ourselves in.

Start With A Clean Slate

Clean out your desk drawers and closets, discarding excess. Redefining what is important to keep and what feels good to get rid of is a first step to creating a peaceful and happy living or working space. Creating an environment that truly resonates with your values is like building an oasis in the desert. By eliminating the need to accumulate more and more “things” around us, we can unburden ourselves and have a more orderly, relaxing and peaceful space to live and work in.

Review Your “Friends List” Too

This same philosophy can be applied to your circle of friends and acquaintances. Just like with material things, we can also accumulate unnecessary or unwanted relationships that can make demands on our time and energy and often insert negativity or sap our physical or financial resources. Clearing out the toxic or unhealthy relationships we may have can bring personal renewal and further our sense of happiness and contentment.

Embrace Family

Take the time to appreciate family. For most of us there are few individuals who have done more for us than our family members. This includes the people in our family who support us, are there when we need them and provide a “safe harbor” throughout our lives.

Losing loving family members can be devastating but no more so than when we fail to appreciate them as they are helping us along life’s bumpy road. Take the time to give back and express your gratitude to those who care and nurture. Not only will this bring them pleasure and a sense of being appreciated, but it will become a reminder of how loved and cared for we are. That allows us to feel more content and happy with being who we are.

For more information about this topic, you can access a free excerpt from the bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by visiting www.ChangingBehavior.org

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.
888-354-4325 Take charge of your health

Do Spiritual Communities Foster Improved Wellness For Baby Boomers?

Do Spiritual Communities Foster Improved Wellness For Baby Boomers?

Stuff happens — especially as we age. Our lives and health generally change. The usual causes include children leaving the nest, divorce, the loss of a spouse or partner, changing financial circumstances or any one of a dozen other events. Often the outcome of these changes can lead to sadness, loneliness, depression and decreased immune function, with the resultant lowered health indicators. Our immune system is an essential key to our longevity and as we age it becomes more important to preserve its function and integrity, especially for those of us over 55 years old. One common question I have encountered is whether spiritual communities foster improved wellness for the baby boomer generation.

Exploring The Existing Research

An interesting study at Duke University Medical Center found that older people who attended religious services at least once a week were about half as likely as those who do not attend services weekly to have elevated levels of an immune protein, interleukin-6 (IL-6), which serves as an indicator of how well the immune system is functioning.

IL-6 indicates the presence of inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been implicated in most major chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. This decreased level of IL-6 translates into a healthier immune system enjoyed by those with regular attendance at their religious community.

The Duke researchers, Dr. Harold Koenig and Dr. Harvey Cohen, studied 1,718 older adults in North Carolina, factoring into the outcomes the health conditions experienced by the study subjects. These included depression, chronic illness, and negative life events — all of which the researchers identified as likely to affect immune status. Even with these conditions, the improvement to the immune system in those who attended weekly services was evidenced.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and first reported in the October 1997 issue of the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, updated in 2004. These findings identified and suggest that religion or participation in a spiritual life community may affect immune function through better coping skills, psychosocial factors and the mechanisms by which organized religion promotes positive thoughts and behaviors.

However, there may be other factors at play as well. Feelings of belonging to a community, shared values, as well as the togetherness of a shared meaningful activity, such as worshiping with others, may be at the cause and effect of these findings.

Dr. Koenig, the lead author of the study, states:

 “Perhaps religious participation enhances immune functioning by yet unknown mechanisms, such as through feelings of belonging, togetherness, even perhaps the experience of worship and adoration… Such positive feelings may counteract stress and convey health effects that go far beyond simply the prevention of depression or other negative emotions.”

This study also raises the theory that there may be a factor in participating in such a weekly ritual that derails the experience of loneliness, experienced by older Americans to a larger extend than younger populations, and that this factor may be part of the healing effect of the weekly spiritual community attendance.

Establishing Validity In Subjective Study

While Koenig had found similar outcomes in a different study a year before this study, those outcomes were based on personal interviews as markers for wellbeing and health status. In the latest study, blood samples were measured for the body’s chemicals such as alpha, beta and gamma globulins, fibrin d-dimers, lymphocytes, and neutrophils, which regulate immune and inflammatory responses, providing a more accurate and scientific measurement to the findings and in calculating how healthy a person actually is.

“There is so much subjectivity when people say they feel better that you can’t rely on self reports alone to truly reflect health status,” said Dr. Harvey Cohen, professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke. “By measuring blood levels of IL- 6, we were trying to put rigorous scientific parameters on the positive health effects of religion,” he said.

Dr. Cohen explains that the team selected IL-6 as it has been identified as contributing to a wide spectrum of various age-related diseases. Cohen’s own research identified a relationship between high levels of IL-6 and a “poor functioning ability, which is a term that is used for tasks of daily living such as dressing, cooking, bathing and so forth.

Physical And Physchological Benefits

Other studies have also shown IL-6 levels are elevated with diseases such as cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure in older adults. It seems that as we age our bodies decrease the ability to overcome the many challenges to our immune system and this leads to a decrease in its function and a greater vulnerability to all forms of illness.

The Women’s Health Initiative follow-up survey based on 92,529 post-menopausal women, at 50 years or older, identified that attending religious services increased life expectancy. This survey was taken with a diverse group of women who varied ethnically, religiously and socioeconomically. The study was funded by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute; National Institutes of Health; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report was published in the Journal of Religion and Health in November 2011. The report states that “those who attend services frequently were 56 percent more likely to have an optimistic life outlook than those who don’t — and were 27 percent less likely to be depressed. Those who attended weekly were less likely to be characterized by cynical hostility, compared with those who did not report any religious service attendance.”

Another study, published in the Winter 2001 Annals of Behavioral Medicine reported that “weekly religious attendants in 1965 were more likely to both improve poor health behaviors and maintain good ones by 1994 than were those whose attendance was less or none. Weekly attendance was also associated with improving and maintaining good mental health, increased social relationships, and marital stability.” So in that sense, yes, baby boomers who belong to a spiritual community may foster improved wellness.

While further studies to explore and more fully understand this data is warranted, for us longevity-focused boomers, a return to a spiritual or worship community could represent an opportunity for renewed connection with others in a shared environment, as well as potential discernment and insight into the importance of belonging.

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