Spirituality, defined as a belief in a higher power that gives life meaning, improves overall health and may prolong life, according to two recently published studies. Exactly how religion lengthens lifespans is not fully understood, but some research suggests that people who attend religious services are healthier than those who do not and are less likely to smoke and/or drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Strong social bonds such as those formed among congregation members may help boost immune system function, thus improving overall health.
One study found that, in general, people who attend worship services one or more times each week live about 8 years longer than those who never attend religious services. This report showed that people who never attend church live to about 75, while those who attend services one or more times a week live to an average age of 83. The study, which analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey, also found that those people who never attended religious services had an 87% higher risk of dying from all causes during a 9-year follow-up period than those who attended services one or more times per week. The researchers note that health can play a role in the ability to attend services, but suggest that religious attendance also works through increased social ties and behavioral factors to decrease the risks of death.
A second study found those who said that they were highly or moderately spiritual reported better overall health and less physical pain than their counterparts who reported low levels of spirituality. This preliminary study is important because it reveals the existence of significant differences in patients' health and pain for those with high, moderate and low levels of internalized spirituality.
Demography May , 1999;36:273-285 and Family Medicine 1998;30:122-126.
COMMENT: There are a hundred and one excuses that we can make to not attend church services. Time is usually one of the biggest reasons. There just never seems to be enough of it any more.