Harvard researchers have linked spirituality to a healthy lifestyle and longevity


Researchers believe that spirituality should be incorporated into patient care.

Spirituality is associated with improved health and patient care.

According to a study conducted by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, spirituality is important for both acute illness and general health.

“This study represents the most thorough and comprehensive systematic review of the contemporary literature on health and spirituality to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician and professor of radiation oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings suggest that attention to spirituality in serious illness and health should be an important part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should prompt national discussion and progress on how to incorporate spirituality into this type of value sensitivity.” to care”.

“Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health,” said Tyler VanderWil, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just the person’s illness.”

The study, co-authored by Balboni, VanderWil and senior author Howard Koch, the Harvey W. Feinberg Professor of Leadership Practice in Public Health at the Harvard Chan School, was recently published. Journal of the American Medical Association. Balboni, VanderWil, and Koch are also co-chairs of Harvard University’s Interfaculty Initiative on Health, Spirituality, and Religion.

According to the International Consensus Conference on Spiritual Care in Health Care, spirituality is defined as “people’s way of searching for intrinsic meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence.” This may include organized religion, but it also includes ways of discovering one’s inner meaning through family, community, or connections with nature.

Balboni, VanderWeele, Koh and colleagues analyzed and evaluated the highest quality data on acute illness and spirituality in health published between January 2000 and April 2022. Of the 8,946 critical illness publications, 371 met the rigorous review criteria, as did 215 of the 6,485 health articles.

A Delphi panel, an organized, interdisciplinary panel of experts, then evaluated the strongest collective evidence and produced consensus results for health and health care.

They found that for healthy people, spiritual community involvement—going to religious services—was associated with healthier lives, including longer life, depression and suicide, and less substance use. For many patients, spirituality is important and influences key disease outcomes, such as quality of life and health care decisions. Consensus implications included consideration of the spiritual component of patient-centered health care and increased awareness among clinicians and health care professionals of the protective benefits of spiritual community involvement.

The 27-member panel was made up of experts in spirituality and health, public health or medicine and represented diverse spiritual/religious perspectives, including non-spiritual, atheist, Muslim, Catholic, various Christian denominations and Hindus. .

Researchers say the simple act of asking about a patient’s spirituality can and should be part of patient-centered, values-based care. Information from the conversation can further guide medical decision-making, including but not limited to notifying a mental health professional. Spiritual care professionals, such as clergy, are trained to provide clinical pastoral care to a variety of patients, regardless of whether they are non-religious or of different religious traditions. Chaplains themselves represent a variety of spiritual backgrounds, including secular and religious backgrounds.

“Ignoring spirituality makes patients feel disconnected from the health care system, and doctors try to care for them,” Koch said. “Integrating spirituality with caregiving can help each person have the opportunity to achieve full well-being and the highest level of health.”

Reference: Tracy A. Balboni, MD, MPH, Tyler J. VanderWil, Ph.D., Stephanie D. Doan-Soares, DrPH, Katelyn NG Long, DrPH, MSc, Betty R. Ferrell, Ph.D., RN, George Fitchett, DMin, Ph.D., Harold G. Koenig, MD, MHSc, Paul A. Bain, Ph.D., MLS, Christina Puchalski, MD, MS, Karen E. Steinhauser, MD, Daniel P. Sulmasi, MD. and Howard K. Koch, MD, MPH, 12 Jul 2022, Journal of the American Medical Association.
DOI: 10.1001/jama.2022.11086

The study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

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