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Going to church prolongs your life by 14 years

Another by Koenig and Vaillant(2009) examined the effect of church attendance on four different indicators of later health in a sample of inner-city men followed throughout their life course. Measures of previous health status, mood, substance abuse, smoking, education, and social class were used to predict the health status at age 70 from church attendance at age 47.

Indirect effects of church attendance on health were observed, with alcohol use/dependence, smoking, and mood being possible mediators of the church attendance-health relationship. The effects of church attendance on more subjective ratings of health, however, may be more direct.

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In explaining the progressive benefits of church attendance and longevity, VanderWeele TJ(2017) held the view that this may be the confluence of the religious values and practices, reinforced by social ties and norms, that give religious communities their powerful effects on so many aspects of human flourishing.

Another study by Manning et al.(2012) explores the Spiritual Lives of Centenarians and illustrates the importance spirituality has for older adults over the life course, particularly those in advanced age. The findings indicate that spirituality is a key factor of support, an important resource in late life, and maintains continuity over the life course for the centenarians. Additionally, spirituality serves as a critical component in the everyday lives of the participants and provides a framework for helping older adults make sense of having lived a very long life.

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A recent study by Ebert et al.(2020) coded gravestone inscriptions and imagery to assess the religiosity and longevity of 6,400 deceased people from religious and nonreligious U.S. counties.  The study shows that in religious cultural contexts, religious people lived 2.2 years longer than non-religious people. In nonreligious cultural contexts, however, religiosity conferred no such longevity benefits. A longer life is not an inherent feature of religiosity. Instead, religious people only live longer in religious and cultural contexts where religiosity is valued. 

This longevity appears to benefit women more than men in church attendance. This was explained by Koenig et al.(1997) study that examines a six-year follow-up study of 3,968 older adults and found that particularly women, who attend religious services at least once a week appear to have a survival advantage over those attending services less frequently.

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Key takeaways:

WhatsApp Image 2023 10 11 at 04.20.14
  • Churchgoers have a significantly lower risk of dying in the  studies I reviewed
  • After adjusting for age, sex, race, and chronic medical conditions, 40- to 65-year-old churchgoers were 46 percent less likely to die as compared to non-churchgoers.
  • There is no statistically significant difference in mortality when measuring how frequently churchgoers attend.
  • Non-churchgoers had significantly higher rates of blood pressure, HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), and the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. Non-churchgoers also had a higher overall of these medical issues than churchgoers.
  • Lower stress levels are not the only possible explanation for churchgoers’ longer lifespans: Non-churchgoers had a higher mortality rate even after controlling their medical conditions, which suggests religiosity alone may play a factor in longevity.
  • Churchgoers are healthier, as they manage to quit smoking, drinking, etc.
  • This longevity appears to benefit women more than men in church attendance

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, an author, and a science writer. E-mail: professor40naturopathy@gmail.com.  

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