Want to know the secret to a long and healthy life? I’ll give you a clue, it doesn’t come from some pill derived from a Far Eastern plant root. It doesn’t come from a self-help book containing “ancient” wisdom kept secret by the Masons. It doesn’t come from going to the gym five days a week or sticking to a paleo diet. It comes from… people! And no, I’m not talking about Soylent Green. I’m talking about marriage, family, community, and prayer. The Catholic San Francisco ran this interesting little piece last week where they talk about how marriage and religiosity are important factors in living a long life.
“The health benefits of marriage are so strong that a married man with heart disease can be expected to live, on average, 1,400 days (nearly four years) longer than an unmarried man with a healthy heart,” said Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
“This longer life expectancy is even longer for a married man who has cancer or is 20 pounds overweight compared to his healthy but unmarried counterpart,” Haltzman added. “The advantages for women are similar.”
Couples with higher levels of religiosity “tend to enjoy greater marital satisfaction, fidelity and stability, with less likelihood of domestic violence,” according to a compilation of studies by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
Right now I’m taking this research on faith since I’m a father of two boys that are sending me on the express lane to gray hair. I’m not quite sure how being a human jungle gym and getting no sleep will exactly extend my life expectancy. Then again, maybe chasing after my toddler and rocking my infant to sleep does have a healthy workout aspect to it so maybe there is a grain of truth to the health benefits of married and family life.
These studies showing the countless benefits of marriage, family, and prayer make intuitive sense to me. When you feel like you are part of a community, whether it be the small family circle or a large parish, you belong to a group of people who mutually reinforce and support each other. In other words, you don’t face life’s struggles alone and you don’t don’t live solely for yourself and your desires. We need that occasional second opinion that pushes us to try harder or put the brakes on our impulses. Personally, I know that I act differently now that I’m a husband and a father then when I was single because I know there is a lot more depending on me to be my very best.
This is also why the rosary is such a powerful prayer for both your physical and spiritual health. When you pray the rosary and meditate on its mysteries, you hopefully arrive at an understanding that you are also part of a larger community — the community of Christ. You are connected to our Mother Mary, the saints, angels, and the departed in Heaven. You are also connected to all the other people united in prayer. I truly believe that the rosary helps you realize that there is so much more to your life than just your immediate needs and desires. You not only understand that there are others looking out for you, but you also realize that there are opportunities for you to help someone else.
For example, when I pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus taking his cross, my initial intentions revolve around asking the Lord for strength to do his will even when my crosses weigh me down. But then I remember that I have the ability to help others carry their crosses and lighten their burden. I ask God to give me an awareness of how I can help others in my life. My rosary prayer may start with asking God to help me but they often end with me thinking how I can help others. To put it another way, my rosary prayers usually start with an inward focus but end with me thinking outwardly about my role in the greater community of humanity. And when millions of people do the same in their prayers, we become a huge community of individuals helping each other and bringing out the very best in each other.
For those of you who visit RosaryMeds regularly, there is a link on the left-hand side you may have overlooked. The site is called “Come, Pray the Rosary” and is a 24/7 rosary prayer that you can join in at any time and also post intentions. When I first came across it, the site maybe had a dozen people praying together at any given time but now it always well over 100 (140 at the time of this writing). It really drives home that the rosary is a community prayer. Plus I love the almost hypnotic quality of the website’s intro music.