On Tuesday afternoon, Pope Francis touched down on American soil for the first time when he landed outside Washington, D.C., to begin his six-day visit. “The People’s Pope,” as Time named him, is expected to draw enormous crowds, and Catholics aren't the only ones expected to gather. Francis is popular across the board, with a whopping 90% approval rate among Catholics, 74% with Protestants, and even a favorable 68% with those unaffiliated with a church, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Excited about the Pope's visit? Interestingly, being a believer is great for your health. In honor of the pontiff's big trip, we rounded up five ways any kind of religion or spirituality has been shown to benefit your mind and body.
Lower blood pressure
Watching your blood pressure? A 1998 study found that religiously active older adults are 40% less likely to have high blood pressure than those who are less active. The researchers from Duke University Medical Center measured the blood pressure of almost 4,000 participants, and surveyed them on their religious participation, and while the results were positive for spiritual people, the researchers couldn’t figure out why.
More life satisfaction
Religious people report more happiness and score higher in terms of life-satisfaction than non-believers. According to a 201o study in the American Sociological Review, this is likely because regular church attendance leads to strong social bonds within congregations. In other words, believers tend to have more friends!
More resilience in the face of insurmountable odds
When people are suffering from advanced-stage cancers, turning to religion to cope may actually prolong their lives, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers interviewed 345 late-stage cancer patients, and assessed their spirituality up through their death. Most of the patients—88%—were religious, and their resilience showed during treatment. The rate of resuscitation was 7.4% for those with a high level of religious coping, versus 1.8% among those with low levels.
A healthier immune system
Colds beware: those who attend religious services at least once a week may have a stronger immune system. The 1997 study, also from Duke University Medical Center looked at 1,718 older adults, and found that the highly spiritual participants were about half as likely as those who don’t attend religious services to have high levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory protein in the immune system linked to certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and some viral infections.
A longer life
Finally, attending religious services more than once a week has been linked to an additional seven years of life, compared to those who never go. The 1999 study found that skipping religious services translates into a 1.87 times greater risk of death versus those who (heh, religiously) show up. The researchers theorize the many social benefits of a religious community may help keep people healthier for longer.