-Church Attendance Shows Correlation with Life Expectancy-
Individuals who attend religious services regularly appear to outlive those who do not attend church. The researchers estimated that people who attended religious services more than once a week had an average additional life expectancy of 62.9 years at age 20, versus 55.3 years for those who did not attend church at all.
People who attended church once a week and those who attended less than once a week, had intermediate life expectancies after age 20 of 61.9 and 59.7 years, respectively. When the investigators took into account demographic factors such as age, sex, race and region, religious attendance remained a significant predictor of mortality. The risk of dying during the follow-up period was 1.87 times higher people who never attended church and 1.31 times higher those who attended church less than once a week, in comparison with the most frequent churchgoers (Meyers).
Studies in preventive health care practices have shown that persons with strong social supports, such as are provided in a church fellowship, tend to have less health problems (Lewis, 1989, Lewis 2002).
Meyers cites another earlier study of 91,909 persons in one Maryland county found that those who attended religious services weekly were less likely to die during the study period than those who did not, 53 percent less from coronary disease, 53 percent less due to suicide, and 74 percent less from cirrhosis of the liver (Comstock & Partridge, 1972). Although the religion-health correlation is yet to be fully explained, Harold Pincus (1997), deputy medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, believes these findings "have made clear that anyone involved in providing health care services . . . cannot ignore . . . the important connections between spirituality, religion, and health.
There is accumulating evidence that spiritual support and belief of some type do improve health and perhaps longevity. For example, one Australian study (Kune et al, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, November 1993, 645-47) examined the self-reported degree of "religiousness" among 715 patients with colorectal cancer and 727 age/sex-matched controls. Even after major risk factors like family history and diet were taken into consideration, self-reported religiousness was found to be a "protective factor." Self-reported religiousness was also linked with an increased survival period (62 months vs. 52 months in the non-religious group), but this was not a statistically significant difference.
Another recent study cited by Meyers (Hummer et al, Demography, May 1999, 273-85) examined death rates using data from the National Health Interview Survey. Religious attendance was associated with reduced rates of mortality. That is, people who never attended religious services had 1.87 times the risk of death in the follow-up period as with those who attended more than once a week, which translated into a 7-year difference in life expectancy.
Of course, correlations do not amount to causality. The authors of this study speculated that "people who do not attend church or religious services are more likely to be unhealthy, and consequently, to die. However, religious attendance also works through increased social ties to decrease the risks of death." One can imagine, for example, a friend saying at church, "Gee, Fred, you look a little pale. Have you had your blood checked recently?" Thus there may indirect health benefits to religion. On the other hand, there may be direct effects on such functions as the immune system, which is known to be affected by emotional factors.
In any case, there seems to be compelling evidence that spiritual factors and other types of emotional support positively influence "quality of life," if not longevity (see E.T. Creagan, May Clinic Proceedings, February 1997, 160-64). Having said this, I should hasten to add that it is a scientific and clinical mistake to "blame" people with cancer or other serious disease for "not being religious enough." There is still no persuasive evidence that terminal illnesses are "caused" by a failure to be religious, even if spiritual factors may influence quality of life and longevity.
Lewis, W.F. (2002). Religion, Health Practices, and Health - An Anomaly. Christ Care Technology, Web Board Publication.
Lewis, W. F. (1989). An analysis of individual health practices and health care utilization. Doctoral Dissertation, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Meyers, David G (2001). Stress and Health, Psychology, 6th edition, Excerpted from CHAPTER 17.