By Heather White, MS, Community Health Improvement Coordinator
Columbia-Pacific Coordinated Care Organization
When I first moved to Tillamook County the first place I looked to plug in was a local church. I’ve done this everywhere I’ve lived, as my parents did when the Navy would move us. They later explained why it was so important: being in a faith community gives a sense of belonging that is hard to build elsewhere. What they didn’t know at the time is that they were not only giving me somewhere to belong, they were giving me access to a longer, healthier life.
Even if you aren’t a person of faith, there is a wealth of research surrounding the connection between faith and long life that can be practiced in or outside a church. In the Blue Zones’ initial studies, 258 of 263 people over the age 100 around the world belonged to a faith, and the effect on their physical and mental health was the same no matter the religion or denomination. Here are some of the common principles that experts point to for explanation:
Purpose. Knowing your purpose has an immense effect on mental wellbeing. People of faith tend to be driven by loving and serving God and mankind, striving to be good, and so on. It can be helping people, raising a healthy family, leaving the world better than they found it. Knowing your purpose gives perspective to life’s ups and downs and provides direction, building resilience against trauma.
Meditation and Prayer. Coping with stress can come in many shapes, but taking an opportunity to purposefully “down shift” from the day on a regular basis reduces the effect of stress on the mind, body, and heart. It can even reduce inflammation! When, how, or who with doesn’t seem to make a difference, as long as you are taking a mental pause from the daily grind.
Community. Being around healthy people makes you healthier, too. This simple principle matters as much in faith and mental health as anything else. That does not mean we avoid being in relationship with people who are struggling. The more we can come as community members to a place where we can be together and sharing in our purposes regardless of what we struggle with, the more we share and increase the benefit. People in a church can disagree on theology or politics and still reap the benefits of community. Even better if that church or group regularly comes together in faith and then goes out to serve the broader community together. Outside the church this can be a class, a volunteer group, or like-minded individuals who meet regularly.
Whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Wiccan, Agnostic, or Atheist—the benefits of belonging to something greater than yourself are undeniable and key to living a long, resilient life. Do you incorporate these principles into your life? If not, it’s never too late to start! And if you’d like more information, visit tillamookcountyhealthmatters.org and join the Year of Wellness. Peace be with you and Namaste!