Source: Deseret News
Scientists say stress levels, healthy habits and community support could be key to beating the virus
SALT LAKE CITY — In April, a Virginia pastor died from the coronavirus after telling his congregation to ignore physical distancing rules. Even after the story made national news, some religious leaders continued to defy public health orders and hold services, including a Louisiana pastor who told his church members, “God gave you an immune system to kill that virus.”
The next month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the virus can spread easily at large religious gatherings, citing a case where two people with COVID-19 infected 35 others in March at church events in Arkansas.
Stories like these show the potential danger of holding large meetings while the coronavirus continues to claim U.S. lives and could cast religious leaders who insist on public worship in a negative light. But Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center, has some positive news for people of faith. He argues that religiousness may actually reduce a person’s risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.
According to Koenig, people who participate in organized religion or have their own spiritual practices are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking and drinking and more likely to have good habits like eating well and exercising. Not only can religious and spiritual involvement impact people’s physical health via their lifestyle choices, but it can also have a significant effect on their emotional well-being, said Koenig. All these factors combined can give a person’s immune system a leg-up in fighting off viruses of any kind, he said.
“There’s no question religion has an impact on both susceptibility to viral infections and recovery from it once you’re infected,” said Koenig, who was raised Catholic and now practices in a Protestant church. “This just makes sense when you think about it.”