COLUMBIA, 12/24/11  (Beat Byte) --  It's official:  Holiday celebrations that include religion such as Christmas and Hanukkah are not only fun and fulfilling, but also good for your health.   Religion and spirituality improves chronic conditions such as cancer, brain injury, and heart disease, University of Missouri researchers have discovered.

"Our findings reinforce the idea that religion/spirituality may help buffer the negative consequences of chronic health conditions," said Stephanie Reid-Arndt, associate professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions.  "We know that there are many ways of coping with stressful life situations, such as a chronic illness; involvement in religious/spiritual activities can be an effective coping strategy."

The team's study examined gender in using spirituality/religiosity to cope with chronic health conditions and disabilities, including spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke and cancer. 

Using measures of religiousness/spirituality, general mental health and general health perception, the researchers found no differences between men and women, a finding that contrasts with other studies that suggest women may be more spiritual or religious than men are.

"Both genders benefit from social support – the ability to seek help from and rely on others – provided by fellow congregants and involvement in religious organizations,” said co-author Brick Johnstone, director of the MU Spirituality and Health Research program  "Encouragement to seek out religious and spiritual supports can assist individuals in coping with stress and physical symptoms related to health issues."

Religious and spiritual chronic care support includes religious counseling and forgiveness practices, congregational care, and assistance from pastors and chaplains.

Johnstone has completed other studies examining religion, spirituality, and health for different chronic disabling conditions and different faith traditions.  The new study was published in the Journal of Religion, Disability & Health and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.