According to research by Italian scientists, reciting the rosary has a similar effect to the Eastern practice of yoga.

Espoused by celebrities such as Madonna and Geri Halliwell, the practice of yoga slows breathing and induces a favourable effect on the heart’s rhythm.

Luciano Bernardi, associate professor of internal medicine at Pavia University, recorded breathing rates in 23 healthy adults during normal talking, recitation of the rosary, yoga mantras, and six minutes of controlled breathing.

Breathing was markedly more regular during the rosary and the mantra and was slowed to about six breaths a minute. The results mean yoga enhances ‘aspects’ of heart and lung function and might be viewed as a health practice as well as a religious practice, he said.

The benefits of breathing exercises in yoga have long been reported, and mantras may have evolved as a simple device to slow respiration, improve concentration, and induce calm, Professor Bernardi says in this week’s British Medical Journal.

Similarly, the rosary may have partly evolved because it synchronised with the body’s natural heart rhythms, and thus gave a feeling of well-being, and perhaps an increased responsiveness to the religious message, he said.

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland was not surprised by the findings of the therapeutic benefits of saying the rosary. He said: ‘It’s good to know that spiritual health and physical health are linked. This proves what people thought long ago — that a healthy mind is linked to a healthy body.’

Prof Bernardi also notes the historic and cultural links between yoga mantras and Catholic chants. He said: ‘It’s what the Church has been offering for centuries. ‘Saying these prayers can lead to a calming and enhanced feeling of well-being.’