How to Boost Your Immune System: Pray More
We are learning that people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. I was interested therefore when a friend sent me an excellent article on how our immune systems work and how to strengthen our immunity.
The article emphasized the common sense approach: eat a healthy diet. Cut those extra pounds. Don’t smoke. Take moderate exercise. Get a good night’s sleep and avoid stress. In other words, an overall healthy lifestyle is going to help you fight infections and disease when they come along.
The only problem with the article is that it was incomplete. Each one of us is are composed of body, mind and spirit. The article about strengthening the immune system dealt with the body and mind, but the author had nothing to say about the spirit. To be truly healthy is to be whole in body, mind and spirit.
We need to be in balance. What we do with our body affects our mind and spirit. What we do with our mind affects our spirit and body, and what we do with our spirit affects our body and mind. A disease in one of the three parts can make us unhealthy in the other two. Likewise, when we are healthy in body, mind and spirit we are truly on the path to wholeness.
Physical and mental exercise are good. A good diet for the mind and a good diet for the body are essential, but what about good exercise and a good diet for the spirit? Too many physicians and health experts neglect the ailments of the spirit. However, scientific tests have shown that prayer and meditation increase physical and mental health.
Be Healthy. Pray More
Author Robert Schiffman quotes a study from the University of Rochester pointing out that 85 percent of people who face a major illness turn to prayer … and it works.
To pray and enter a period of silent meditation helps reduce stress. It also builds a positive attitude, helps us find inner reserves of strength and construct a trustful and hopeful approach to life.
Schiffman says, “The relationship between prayer and health has been the subject of scores of double-blind studies over the past four decades. 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.”
This state of mind is associated with slower brain waves, feelings of control and a kind of alert awareness and inner calm. This effect in the body and mind helps the individual cope with depression, high blood pressure, migraines and a list of other stress related illnesses.
Dr. Andrew Newberg is the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He did studies on Franciscan nuns and Buddhist monks and showed that they both experienced wider perception, brain function and high levels of dopamine — the chemical in the brain that produces feelings of joy and well being.
Go With God
Is this simply the result of taking time off, sitting still and chilling out? What if the person simply does deep breathing and think about something other than their worries? Schiffman refers to an experiment conducted by Ken Pargement of Bowling Green State University with two different groups of people who suffer migraine headaches.
Pargement instructed one group to meditate 20 minutes each day repeating a spiritual affirmation, such as “God is good. God is peace. God is love.” The other group used a nonspiritual phrase: “Grass is green. Sand is soft.” The spiritual meditators had fewer headaches and more tolerance of pain than those who had focused on the neutral phrases.
So there is more to it than just being chilled out. There is more to it than thinking positive thoughts. Through prayer the believer connects to the source to God — who is the source of life and health. The creator’s power and life surges through the prayerful person as electricity flows when you plug into the power outlet.
Long Term Life Insurance
The practice of prayer also has long term health benefits. People who pray daily are 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those who do not pray. Heart surgery patients with strong religious beliefs and practice were three times more likely to recover than the non-religious, and a study of asthma sufferers revealed that those who prayed had fewer and less severe symptoms than those who did not pray.
Meanwhile other studies show that prayer boosts the immune system. Scientific studies indicate that long term daily prayer helps to deactivate genes that trigger inflammation and prompt cell death. In other words, “Prayer changes things”!
You will not necessarily be delivered from COVID-19 or any range of illnesses simply by dropping to your knees and muttering a few prayers out of a book. But daily spiritual exercises, feeding the mind with the church’s liturgy and Scriptures and exercising the spirit through daily prayer will bring long term benefits and wholeness to body, mind and spirit.
Finally, a recent survey of 4,000 senior citizens in Durham, NC, found that people who prayed coped better with illness and lived longer than those who did not. In other words, even if you do fall ill, if you are person of faith with a good prayer life, you will have the inner strength to come through the illness to the light on the other side.
Follow Dwight Longenecker’s blog, listen to his podcasts browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com