Discussing religion used to be a topic that for centuries people were advised to avoid. But Ellen L. Idler, PhD and Samuel Candler Dobbs, professors from the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, as well as other researchers felt it was important enough to warrant scientific investigation. All of them were curious about what consequences religious lifestyles may have on the healthspan and lifespan of middle-aged and older adults. Their findings were illuminating.

“There have been literally thousands of studies looking at whether religion is good for your health”, said Dr. Dan German Blazer II, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences as Duke University Medical Center, but the findings have been mixed about whether religious devotion such as prayer and spirituality or reading the bible or other religious literature improve longevity. “The one aspect”, he continued, “that is significantly more predictive of good health and longevity is religious service attendance.” He editorialized these comments in an issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Nurses Health Study

In this study, researchers looked at data from almost 75,000 middle-aged nurses in the United States. They asked the nurses about their frequency of participation in religious services every four years between 1992 and 2012, and the research revealed that the nurses who went to church more than once per week had a 33% lower risk of dying during the study period compared with those who said they never went.

In addition, women who regularly attended church also had higher rates of social support and optimism, had lower rates of depression, and were also less likely to smoke. The majority of the nurses in the study were either Protestant or Catholic, so it wasn’t clear if participants in other Christian religious services or other faiths would have had the same results. Most reported that they were spiritual, so the researchers attributed the findings to the subjects participating in something aligned with their already existing beliefs.

The Emory Rollins School of Public Health Study

Professors Idler and Dobbs focused on data gathered between 2004 and 2014 of over 18,000 participants of the Health and Retirement Study out of the University of Michigan, a longitudinal study of the “health and economic circumstances” of over-50 individuals in the United States. They summed up the results saying, “…respondents who attended frequently [i.e. at least once per week] had a 40% lower hazard of mortality … compared with those who never attended.” Professor Idler further commented on the findings stating, “With this paper, we were able to take a theory and conceptual framework to real data and come back with some dramatic findings.”

The underlying causes for health advantages and longevity may be the benefit church participants receive from the support of the church community and their involvement in helping others as well.

The authors recognize a few limitations to this study because health status, behavior, and religious attendance were all self-reported, which could make the data prone to bias. Still, it may be a good idea to head to your House of Worship if you want to remain healthy and live longer.

Research

1. Attending religious services may increase lifespan. Medical News Today.
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320581.php

2. Going to Church Could Help You Live Longer, Study Says. Carina Storrs, CNN.
https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/16/health/religion-lifespan-health/index.html