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March 19, 2012, last updated June 3, 2014

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Does a prayer a day keep the doctor away? Communication
with God, talking with a higher being, a conversation with a
universal force, or simply an “earnest wish or request”
(Merriam-Webster): however you define prayer, we have
believed in its beneficial healing power for generations.
Around one third of us in America today use prayer in addition
to conventional medicine and alternative therapies to help our
health, according to Harvard Medical School (2004).

Do you leave your health concerns in the hands of a higher
being? There is no absolute proof of prayer’s therapeutic
efficacy but spirituality does not always gel well with science.
Sixty-nine percent of people in the Harvard Medical School
survey said prayer was very helpful for their specific medical

A 2005 critical review by Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical
Center and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center,
Richmond found prayer may help reduce anxiety, decrease
cardiac complications in people with heart disease, decrease
length of hospital stay, increase the success rate of in vitro
fertilization, and increase immune function.

But studies have given us conflicting results and ideas. The
design of some studies is said to be flawed, and the bias of
researchers is called into question.

Does prayer benefit your health? Or is it, as skeptics say, all in
the mind? We found several studies looking at the power of
prayer. We’ve checked out the scientific evidence to list the
ways prayer is said to benefit your health.

Keep an open mind, and read on for the Top 10 health
benefits of prayer, based on research studies.

Prayer Can Improve Vision and Hearing

Praying for someone else’s health may be very effective,
especially if the beneficiary is physically close to the person
doing the praying. A 2010 study from the Department of
Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington
investigated vision and hearing in poor areas of rural
Mozambique and the implications of “proximal” prayer – the
person praying is in close physical proximity to the person
who needs to be healed. The people in the study
demonstrated significantly improved hearing and vision after
proximal prayer.

Prayer Helps You Handle Negative Emotions

Prayer can help you deal with emotional pain, whether it is
caused by illness, depression or negative events, according to
2010 research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
How? One way prayer helps, according to the researchers, is
by giving you the opportunity to vent your anger and sadness
without fear. Researchers looked at people in violent
relationships and noticed how prayer helped raise their self
esteem and lowered stress levels.

Prayer can also help sufferers deal with anxiety. A 2009 study
from the University of Mississippi showed direct, person-to-
person prayer resulted in significantly improved levels of
anxiety and depression as well as an increase in optimism.
These improvements held fast for at least a month after the
prayer sessions stopped. And a 1997 study by S O'Laoire
showed that prayer from a distance helped overall
improvement on all measures connected with anxiety and

Praying Gives You Incentive to Exercise?

Group prayer, scripture reading and faith-based
encouragement caused older African-American women to
exercise, according to the results of a 2010 study from the
University of California, Los Angeles.

Those who prayed and joined in with the faith group
increased their steps by 78 percent a week, which is about
equal to an extra three miles. Lead researcher Dr. O. Kenrik
Duru makes the point that it may not all be about prayer;
community matters too: “The rationale for this study is our
belief that health promotion efforts for African-Americans
must take advantage of existing community strengths to be
sustained and be successful, such as members of the same
church having a sense of communal identity.”

Social Aspects of Religion, Not Prayer, Improve Life and

In fact, while prayer may indeed be helpful to health some
researchers claim that it’s the social aspects of religion which
account for improvements in health and well-being.
Friendships within religious groups, socializing and attending
religious services make people happier and healthier,
according to 2010 research from the University of Wisconsin-

“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to
church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people
happier, but making church-based friends and building
intimate social networks there,” reported the lead researcher.

Prayer Helps Traumatic Brain Injury Sufferers

If traumatic brain injury sufferers feel close to a higher being
or power, and communicate with this higher power, they
rehabilitate faster and with fewer complications, according to
a 2011 study from Wayne State University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences.

Traumatic brain injury is a disruption to normal brain activity
following a head injury.

The researchers looked at 88 sufferers who completed an
assessment of their cognitive abilities and their religious
feeling and practice.

In this study sufferers were not often able to join with others
in religious worship, so the better physical and emotional
rehabilitation outcomes seemed to come from prayer and a
personal connection with a higher being rather than the social
aspects of religion.

Prayer Results in Improved Survival after Liver

How about life-threatening medical conditions and procedures
– can prayer help you survive?

Researchers report that prayer and strong religious
connections result in better survival rates following liver

The 2010 study from the Institute of Clinical Physiology,
National Research Council, Pisa, Italy found that religious faith
and prayer prolonged the life of people who underwent live

Researchers looked at 179 people from different religions –
they did not have to go to church to pray or have faith and
feel the benefits.  

People Who Are Prayed for Have Better Heart Health

Intercessory prayer, or praying for others, is a common
response for millions of people around the world when faced
with someone hospitalized for heart disease or heart attack.

A 1999 study from the Mid America Heart Institute, Saint
Luke's Hospital, Kansas City assigned 990 patients in the
coronary care unit to a prayer group or none, without telling
them whether they were being prayed for or not. T

he study showed that praying for a person brought down the
number of adverse effects patients suffered while in the
coronary care unit, leading researchers to suggest that prayer
may be an effective add-on to conventional cardiac care.

Prayer’s Effects on Bloodstream Infection

The effects of intercessory prayer are also felt by people with
bloodstream infection, according to a 2001 study by the
Department of Medicine, Rabin Medical Center, Israel. People
prayed remotely for the health of one group of patients with
bloodstream infection, while the rest were not prayed for.
Results showed the group receiving prayer had significantly
shorter stays in hospital and shorter durations of fever.

Can Prayer Cure Cancer?

There is no direct evidence that prayer can cure cancer but
many people find comfort in prayer when suffering such a
serious disease. Over 68% of men and women with a history
of cancer pray for their own health, according to a 2008 study
from the Institute for Health, Social and Community Research,
Shaw University, Raleigh. Overall, praying for one’s own
health was associated with better health status.

A 2009 study by the Department of Chaplain Services, Mayo
Clinic, Rochester looked at the implementation of using a
centering prayer as part of chemotherapy treatment for
ovarian cancer.

The prayer session was conducted by a teacher over three
one-hour sessions. Women who took part in the prayer
sessions showed improvement in well being, depression and
anxiety. It is possible that higher levels of faith, better self
esteem and a greater sense of well being can contribute to
higher recovery rates, although further study is needed.

These 10 research studies provide substantial evidence that
prayer truly works to help healing. But ultimately, we may
never be able to answer the question to the satisfaction of all.
As the saying goes, to those who don't believe no proof is
sufficient, and to those who do believe no proof is necessary.

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