It’s our first Journal Dive, where we jump into published studies on faith & health and fish out the important findings to share with you all! Does your faith help you live healthier? Can your faith help you eat better? Exercise more? Lessen stress? Faithful Families will explore these questions and see what the research is telling us.
We are starting our dive with a study recently published in PLOS One by Vanderbilt University. A group of researchers, representing several universities and institutes, explored the question: how does attending church affect people’s chronic stress level and longevity?
This study followed several others done by groups of researchers also interested in see how religion impacted health outcomes. So far, the body of evidence has been mixed. Some found religion to have benefits while others…not so much.
What these previous studies suggested was perhaps religiosity or attending church benefited health because it was mediated by other things – such as a healthy lifestyle, social cohesion, or decreasing chronic stress. In other words, perhaps attending church could decrease chronic stress, which could explain why churchgoers have better health outcomes. Chronic stress has already been linked to premature morbidity and mortality in various studies. Can this study provide evidence that attending church contributes to lower chronic stress, which contributes to longevity?
This study looked at over 5,000 adults aged 40 to 65 years. About 64 percent of them attended church at least once a year. What the group of researchers did was examine the difference in chronic stress level and mortality among those who attended church and those who didn’t.
“…attending church is actually good for your health, particularly for those who are between ages of 40 and 65.”
What they found was exciting and positive. Although chronic stress did not fully explain why attending church linked to longevity, it did explain some of it. Compared to people who attended church at least once a year, non-churchgoers were more likely to have higher chronic stress. At the same time, people who attended church more than once a week reduced their risk for mortality by 55 percent. Those who did not attend church at all were twice as likely to die prematurely than those who did attend church at least once.
“..it’s not about any particular faith, it is about any faith.”
These benefits are not just confined to attending churches. Dr. Marino Bruce, lead researcher for the study, pointed out that the findings could apply to “…any place of worship, any place where groups gather to worship. It could be a church, it could be a temple, it could be a mosque.” Going where somewhere for worship, for any faith, is what makes the difference.
The research team is looking forward to exploring other potential reasons for this relationship between attending church and longevity, such as “holiness” and “compassion.” In any case, it looks like your time in worship is doing good for your body and mind.
Watch Professor Marino Bruce talk about what these findings mean for your faith and health.