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You Asked: Do Religious People Live Longer?

You Asked: Do Religious People Live Longer?
From TIME - February 15, 2018

If a long life is what youre after, going to church may be the answer to your prayers.

A number of studies have shown associations between attending religious services and living a long time. One of the most comprehensive, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2016, found that women who went to any kind of religious service more than once a week had a 33% lower chance than their secular peers of dying during the 16-year study-follow-up period. Another study, published last year in PLOS One, found that regular service attendance was linked to reductions in the bodys stress responses and even in mortalityso much so that worshippers were 55% less likely to die during the up to 18-year follow-up period than people who didnt frequent the temple, church or mosque.

You dont have to become a nun to get these health benefits, however. The simple act of congregating with a like-minded community might deserve much of the credit. Tyler VanderWeele, one of the authors of the JAMA study and a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says factors related to churchgoinglike having a network of social support, an optimistic attitude, better self-control and a sense of purpose in lifemay account for the long-life benefits seen in his study and others.

Indeed, its also the values drawn from religious traditionsuch as respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, meditation and preservation of healththat seem to predict longevity, not the dogma preached at the altar, says Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and co-author of the book The Longevity Project.

Fostering these qualities may even affect rates of chronic disease, says Marino Bruce, a co-author of the PLOS One study and a research associate professor of medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt University. Having that sense that youre not in the world alone, that you are part of a power larger than oneself, can give one confidence to deal with the issues of life, Bruce says. Biologically, if that reduces stress, then that means youre less likely to have high blood pressure or diabetes or things that can increase mortality.

But what if organized religion isnt your style? Can solo prayeror even a more abstract sense of faith or spiritualityprovide the same payoff?

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