While most doctors aren’t about to hand their stethoscopes over to a higher power, more and more medical professionals are taking seriously the relationship between spirituality and physical health. “There’s been a sea change in the way the medical community looks at spirituality,” says Puchalski, an internist who founded the George Washington University Institute for Spirituality and Health in 2001 to promote research and education on the topic. In recent years, a growing number of rigorous studies have shown that spirituality—including prayer, meditation, and attendance at religious services—benefits health in ways that science hasn’t fully explained. Among other effects, regular worship and other spiritual acts appear to lengthen life expectancy, strengthen immunity, improve the body’s response to stress, and boost other measures of physical health.

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