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Original Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2000 17:09:32 +0200
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Thursday, April 27, 2000
Belief in afterlife can make you live longer, study says
Lack of faith blamed for 43,000 deaths
TORONTO - Going to church may not guarantee you a heavenly afterlife,
but it will help you live longer in the here and now, according to
research by a medical professor at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Chandrakant Shah, a physician and professor of public health
sciences, says a fifth of all Canadian deaths -- about 43,000 deaths
each year -- can be blamed on poor spiritual beliefs. Dr. Shah says
that if Canadians attended religious services more frequently, said
their prayers more often, or placed more faith in the powers of a
celestial creator, they would live longer and healthier lives.
"There are beneficial results from being a spiritual person," he says
in research released yesterday. "It reduces stress, promotes healthy
lifestyles and increases social connectedness: all improve the health
and well-being of individuals and are associated with lower
The study is the first in Canada to take a widely held academic
assumption that spiritual people have healthier lives and apply that
theory to Canadian public health and mortality statistics.
Dr. Shah describes spirituality not only as a belief in God or
participation in traditional religion, but as "the beliefs, values and
behaviours a person holds concerning his place in the universe, and
which reflects one's connections with a higher power and one's social
and physical environment."
He says spirituality takes two forms. The inner form involves faith in
a "higher power" and the sense of security or "inner peace" that comes
from that faith. The outer form involves the connection someone feels
with their fellow humans.
Feeling more connected makes someone more "caring, sharing,
compassionate and respectful" as an individual, says Dr. Shah.
If spirituality brings more "inner peace," it also lessens the need
for "pleasure-seeking behaviours" -- drinking, smoking, gluttony,
promiscuous sex or material gain. The study says that both forms of
spiritual faith bring with them better physical health.
"Many individuals consider that having material things such as a
Mercedes or Lexus will make them happy," writes Dr. Shah, who
describes himself as a spiritual, but non-religious person. "To
achieve material gains, people are constantly on the go and face all
types of stress ... However, people with inner peace are contented
people and are not in a rat race."
Drawing data from Canada's National Population Health Surveys in the
mid-1990s, Dr. Shah used three measurements to gauge the spirituality
of Canadians -- weekly attendance at religious activities, levels of
"social connectedness" [or personal relationships] and levels of
With information from those studies -- including the fact that in 1997
only 59% of Canadians took part in regular religious worship -- Dr.
Shah used epidemiological formulae to calculate that 43,000 deaths
each year are "potentially attributable" to low levels of
If as many as 80% of Canadians participated in weekly worship, the
research predicts the number of deaths attributable to low levels of
spirituality would fall to 23,000.
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