Fitting a worship service into your weekly schedule could extend your life, according to a new study on church attendance and mortality published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine (paywall.)
"Over a 20-year span, the study surveyed a group of more than 76,000 female nurses, most of whom were Catholic and Protestant. At the end of 20 years, more than 13,000 of them had died. The women who went to religious services more than once a week, it turned out, were 33 percent less likely to be in that group who died, compared to those who never attended services," The Washington Post reported.
Church attendance appeared to boost health in a variety of ways, helping believers practice health habits.
"Women who started going to services then became more likely to quit smoking and less likely to show signs of depression … even when the researchers controlled for a long list of other variables, from age and exercise habits to income and other non-religious social engagement," the Post reported.
Researchers have been studying the relationship between religion and health for years, but they've drawn few definitive conclusions. Findings are limited by sample size and disagreement about what the data actually show.
The new study focused on women in the health care field, making some observers question whether the findings can be applied to a broader group of believers, CNN reported.
"Most of the women in the study were Protestant or Catholic, so it is not clear whether a similar association would be found between religious service attendance and longevity for people of other Christian religions, Judaism or Islam," the article noted.
Church attendance is often thought to boost mental and physical health because it keeps people active in their community and helps them build strong relationships.
However, a recent Pew Research Center study showed that highly religious Americans, or people who pray daily and attend religious services at least once a week, aren't significantly different than other Americans in terms of eating behaviors.
Fifty-eight percent of both highly religious and not highly religious Americans told Pew they ate too much in the past week, the study reported.
In spite of these mixed findings at the intersection of faith and health, many leaders in the medical field are working to integrate religion into the care plans of religious patients.
"If patients say that attending religious services is important to them, the doctor can help ensure that they maintain a good relationship with their church, temple or mosque," CNN reported.
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