Embedded in a theoretical framework of risk and resiliency, our research provides insights into how and why spirituality, religious practices and coping strategies work as protective factors, buffering individuals from the detrimental effects of stress on health. We will augment ongoing research with the Notre Dame Study of Health and Well-being (NDHWB) to support an investigation of the biological pathways through which life stress contributes to the physical health of older adults, and to understand the extent to which daily assessed religious and spiritual experiences and global indices of faith, religious practices, beliefs and coping strategies serve to protect individuals from the ill-effects of exposure to adversity. With the present proposal, we broaden the NDHWB by collecting important downstream biological indicators of stress response (e.g., elevated cholesterol and glucose levels, decreased immune function) and disease development (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes). The result is a novel extension of research on the cumulative physiological burden of stress and its implication for health outcomes, evaluating the efficacy of a variety of indicators of religiousness and spirituality, both at the global and daily levels, to mediate or moderate these potentially deleterious effects. Given the longitudinal data already available in the NDHWB, the proposed study provides a means to reliably trace the antecedent stress factors and the protective effects of spiritual resources on health outcomes. Ultimately, the results provide a foundation for better understanding how (e.g., global vs daily effect) and why (e.g., direct effect of religious coping vs indirect effects through social support or feelings of control) aspects of religion confer these benefits and to design intervention and prevention strategies that make use of these findings. A series of empirical manuscripts, book chapters, conference presentations, and community lectures will be produced.
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