This New Year's resolution can make you healthier & happier

In a survey conducted by NPR and The Marist Poll a few years ago, almost half of all American adults planned to make New Year’s resolutions. Of course, at the top of the list was exercising more.

In fact, “Roughly 55 percent of New Year’s resolutions were health-related, such as exercising more, eating healthier and getting out of financial debt,” according to the science journal The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,” Fox News reported.

However, “According to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, just 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals, while around 80 percent fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions,” says U.S. clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani.

So, when do we start to fall off the wagon? Research conducted by Strava using over 800 million user-logged activities predicted the day most people are likely to give up on their New Year’s Resolution is Jan. 19. (Strava calls it “Quitter’s Day.”)

I’m all for fresh starts. And you already know I’m a big believer in physical exercise by my roughly 50-year endorsement and use of the Total Gym.

But what if there were a non-physical resolution that could make you healthier and happier, for starters, and demanded far less physical exertion?

For millions, it is already the core power of their lives. For millions of others, its mere mention makes them cringe. Still for millions of others, it is a controversial practice that can’t possibly yield the fruit of fitness and happiness – or so they think.

It’s called prayer; simply put: talking with God. Now, before you tune me out, consider the evidence. Even science has proven it’s much more powerful than most would assume.

The relationship between prayer and health has been the subject of myriad double-blind studies over the past four decades, as even Huff Post documented. Consider these scientific bases:

Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine discovered what he calls “the relaxation response,” which occurs during periods of prayer and meditation. At such times, the body’s metabolism decreases, the heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and our breath becomes calmer and more regular.

In one National Institutes of Health funded study, individuals who prayed daily were shown to be 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those without a regular prayer practice.

Research at Dartmouth Medical School found that patients with strong religious beliefs who underwent elective heart surgery were three times more likely to recover than those who were less religious.

A 2011 study of inner-city youth with asthma by researchers at the University of Cincinnati indicates that those who practiced prayer and meditation experienced fewer and less severe symptoms than those who had not.

Other studies show that prayer boosts the immune system and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses.

[Another] recent survey reported in the Journal of Gerontology of 4,000 senior citizens in Durham, North Carolina, found that people who prayed or meditated coped better with illness and lived longer than those who did not.

Everyday Health documented a few more studies about the power of prayer:

A September 2015 report published in Health Psychology found that when researchers followed 191 people with congestive heart failure for five years, they found that those who reported feeling spiritual peace – and who also made some healthy lifestyle changes – were significantly more likely to live longer than their peers.

People with major depressive disorder or chronic medical illness who report high levels of religiosity, which includes daily religious experiences [like prayer], generally become more optimistic than their peers, found a study published in July 2015 in Depression and Anxiety.

Weekly attendance at a religious service, praying often, and reading religious books all appear to prevent recovering substance abusers from relapsing and again using cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or alcohol, according to research published in June 2015 in the Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome.

Prayer even improves your relationships and love life. Florida State University’s professors conducted five studies to understand how prayer can affect personal relationships. What they discovered was that praying for close friends, or even loved ones, in a positive manner can actually improve the relationships you have with those people, the Christian Post reported.

The Desert News also reported that “Psychologist Mahlet Endale explained to Emory University that prayer has a lot of positive mental benefits, one of which is increased creativity. Prayer will help you build relationships with your family, friends and local church community, which will then lead you to get involved in the more creative project.”

Of course, all of the above mind and body benefits don’t supersede the spiritual benefits of prayer. The Desert News also reported that faster and deeper spiritual growth is prayer’s key benefit. A writer at Activated, a monthly faith-based magazine, highlighted a couple different ways praying can spiritually help you, including getting to know God.

“You will be made stronger in spirit,” the article reads. “Time spent in quiet reflection and listening builds inner strength that will get you through life’s toughest times.”

Bottom line, Dr. Dale Matthew, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of “The Faith Factor: Proof of the Healing Power of Prayer,” concluded that medical acceptance has grown along with scientific data on prayer’s impact. He estimates that about 75% of studies on spirituality have confirmed that it has health benefits.

Dr. Matthew’s summary statement says it all: “If prayer were available in pill form, no pharmacy could stock enough of it.” The fact is, prayer makes good medicine, chicken soup for the mind, body and soul.

I’m not suggesting that we pray for the sole reason to get physically or mentally fit, have better relationships, or even live longer. But if those are beneficial byproducts of the practice, why not make it a greater priority than joining a gym?

If the God of the Universe hardwired us for relationship and communion with Him, doesn’t it make sense that prayer would yield a plethora of benefits and blessings?

Could it be that part of the reason more Americans don’t experience better holistic health is that, as a study from the Pew Research Center reported, fewer than half of American adults pray daily and a third say they seldom or never pray? Are those numbers so low because we simply don’t understand and believe in the power of prayer?

It truly makes one wonder why prayer is not a more popular New Year’s resolution each year.

So, why not resolve in 2023 to talk to God (more)? The benefits will be out of this world!

(To learn more about the practice of prayer, I recommend this 3-minute video, “Prayer: How to Talk with God,” and this article, “How Can We Talk to God?” And please don’t forget to read my weekly C-Force health & fitness column from Creators Syndicate for that added weekly boost for your new year!)

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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