Date Presented 04/21/2023

We explored the relationship between spirituality and overall health and its impact on students’ lives for those enrolled at a faith-based university. Upon analysis of 101 student surveys and 12 student interviews, we were able to describe students’ health habits and spirituality. In line with the American Occupational Therapy Association Vision 2025 mission, furthering our understanding in this area may enable us to better support students’ overall health and well-being, including their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Primary Author and Speaker: Dragana Krpalek

Additional Authors and Speakers: Julie Kugel

University students often have a variety of demands to juggle, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one that tends to be overlooked (Krpalek et al., 2017). University students may report reduced well-being given that they are likely to experience anxiety, depression, high stress levels, lack of physical activity, sleep disturbance, and poor nutrition (Lund et al., 2010). Further, although spirituality has been identified as a facet of overall health and well-being, few research studies have explored the impact of spiritual beliefs on health-related behavior (Underwood & Teresi, 2002). Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore the connection between lifestyle and spirituality as they impact wellness among students enrolled at a faith-based institution. This may provide insight into the roles, habits, and routines of university students and how they balance their everyday lives including academics and spiritual needs.

DESIGN: The research consisted of a mixed methods study with quantitative data obtained through a digital survey and phenomenological qualitative data via semi-structured interviews. Participants were recruited through email and digital flyers which were sent to students at a faith-based University.

METHOD: The survey consisted of six demographic questions, the Lifestyle Assessment Short Form (American College of Lifestyle Medicine, 2018), Daily Spirituality Experiences Scale (Underwood & Teresi, 2002), and nine COVID impact questions adapted from the Occupational Therapy Spiritual assessment (Gillen, 2019). An optional semi-structured interview was offered to expand on current lifestyle habits and the spiritual experience at the University. Survey results were analyzed using SPSS Version 26 and involved application of descriptive analysis. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and coded using descriptive coding. Intercoder agreement was achieved (Kappa = 0.60–0.74) and a codebook was created. The codebook was condensed through group discussion and concept mapping to identify common themes.

RESULTS: One hundred and one students responded to the survey and indicated that the top four health habits they wanted to improve were exercise routine, sleep routine, nutrition, and mental health respectively. Further, students’ spirituality was most commonly expressed through ‘being thankful for my blessings’, ‘being touched by the beauty of creation’, ‘desire to be closer to a higher power’ and ‘finding comfort in their religion or spirituality’. Four main themes emerged from qualitative data obtained from 12 students who participated in the follow-up interview: University, Spirituality, Lifestyle, and Professors. Students reported an overall positive experience from attending a faith-based university expanding on the school’s positive environment, mission, values, and support from the professors. While each student had his/her own definition of spirituality, common themes included an interconnected, dynamic relationship between oneself, others and, at times, a higher power.

CONCLUSION: Students’ spirituality and lifestyle are positively impacted by attending a faith-based university. The university’s professors, non-forced approach to spirituality, and supportive environment were seen to promote health and wellness.

IMPACT STATEMENT: As spirituality is within the scope of practice for occupational therapists, it is important to understand the relationship between spirituality and overall health and its impact on students’ lives. In line with the AOTA 2025 mission, furthering our understanding in this area may enable us to better support students’ overall health and well-being including their physical, mental, emotional.


Krpalek, D., Javaherian-Dysinger, H., & Hewitt, L. (2017). Health Profiles of Allied Health Students Enrolled in a Faith-Based University. Journal of allied health, 46(1), 36–42.

Underwood, L. G., & Teresi, J. A. (2002). The Daily Spiritual Experience Scale: Development, theoretical description, reliability, exploratory factor analysis, and preliminary construct validity using health-related data. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(1), 22–33.

Engquist, D. E., Short-DeGraff, M., Gliner, J., & Oltjenbruns, K. (1997). Occupational therapists’ beliefs and practices with regard to spirituality and therapy. The American journal of occupational therapy: official publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association, 51(3), 173–180.

Morris, D.N., Stecher, J., Briggs-Peppler, K.M., Chittenden, C.M., Rubira, J., & Wismer, L.K. (2012). Spirituality in occupational therapy: Do we practice what we teach? Journal of Religion & Health, 48(1).