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Could going to religious services boost your health?

People who attend worship services at a church, mosque, or synagogue live longer, are less stressed, and have better overall physical health than people who do not, new research indicates.

“Sometimes in health science we tend to look at those things that are always negative and say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that,'” says Marino Bruce, a social and behavioral scientist and associate director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University.

The new research findings, however, are “encouraging individuals to participate in something,” he says.

According to the study, middle-aged (ages 40 to 65) adults—both men and women—who attend church or other house of worship reduce their risk for mortality by 55 percent.

“Our findings support the overall hypothesis that increased religiosity—as determined by attendance at worship services—is associated with less stress and enhanced longevity,” says Bruce, who is an ordained Baptist minister.

“We’ve found that being in a place where you can flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health,” Bruce says.

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The researchers analyzed subjects’ attendance at worship services, mortality, and allostatic load. Allostatic load is a physiological measurement of factors including cardiovascular (blood pressure, cholesterol-high density lipoprotein ration, and homocysteine), nutritional/inflammatory (albumin, C-reactive protein), and metabolic (waist-hip ratio, glycated hemoglobin) measures. The higher the allostatic load, the more stressed an individual was interpreted as being.

Of the 5,449 people of all races and both sexes who were surveyed, 64 percent were regular worshipers, Bruce says. Non-worshipers had significantly higher overall allostatic load scores and higher prevalence of high-risk values for three of the 10 markers of allostatic load than did church-goers and other worshipers.

The effects of attendance at worship services remained after education, poverty, health insurance, and social support status were all taken into consideration, Bruce says. The study did not address the effects of frequency of worship.

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“We found that they go to church for factors beyond social support,” Bruce says. “That’s where we begin to think about this idea of…compassionate thinking, that we’re…trying to improve the lives of others as well as being connected to a body larger than ourselves.”

Bruce is the main author of the study along with Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angles. The study, which appears in PLOS ONE, uses data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, which are available to the public.

Source: Vanderbilt University