Could Attending Church Services be the Key to a Longer Life?

Could Attending Church Services be the Key to a Longer Life?


Attending religious service might nurture your physical health as well as your spiritual health.  A new study published by the American Medical Association “says that those who attend church services more often actually have a better chance of staying alive in the long run.” Doctors might consider recommending attending services to their patients who already hold religious beliefs as a means of social support, spiritual support and positive engagement with others. 


 May 16

Religious services aren’t just good for your soul — they might be good for your health.

A new study, released Monday in a journal published by the American Medical Association, says that those who attend church services more often actually have a better chance of staying alive in the long run.

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.

Tyler VanderWeele, a researcher at Harvard’s school of public health who co-wrote the study, said the effect diminished as the study participants decreased their service attendance. Those who attended services once a week saw their odds of dying go down 26 percent. For those who attended less than weekly, the odds of dying decreased 13 percent, VanderWeele said.

That led the study’s authors to a striking recommendation: “Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” they wrote. “Our results do not imply that health care professionals should prescribe attendance at religious services, but for those who already hold religious beliefs, attendance at services could be encouraged as a form of meaningful social participation.”

VanderWeele said that other studies have suggested a similar link between service attendance and decreased mortality, but his team aimed to prove that service attendance actually causes the better health outcomes. Because the nurses answered questionnaires periodically over a long time frame, he said, the researchers were able to look at whether a change in service attendance led to a change in health.

They found numerous benefits associated with attending services. Women who started going to services then became more likely to quit smoking and less likely to show signs of depression, for instance — 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 effect of religious attendance, they found, was stronger than that of any other form of participation in a social group like a book club or a volunteer organization.

“We were a bit surprised, initially, by the magnitude of the findings,” VanderWeele said. He said they found a long list of positive effects: “Service attendance is increasing social support. Through social norms, it’s also decreasing the likelihood of smoking. Perhaps through some of the messages of hope, it’s decreasing depressive symptoms. Perhaps self-discipline, a sense of meaning or purpose in life — it’s not just one pathway.”

He continued, “I don’t think it’s one single reason that this effect is emerging. I think it’s that service attendance affects so many different aspects of life.”

Richard Sloan, a Columbia medical school professor who has expressed skepticism of similar studies in the past, said these latest results should not lead doctors to talk about faith in the examining room. “Physicians threaten to compromise the religious freedom of patients to make decisions about religious practice on their own,” Sloan said. “It’s perfectly reasonable for physicians to make medical recommendations which they expect patients to follow…. When physicians stray from a medical agenda to some kind of social agenda, it’s a violation of the patient’s autonomy.”

But VanderWeele said doctors should be aware of the apparent benefits of religious attendance.

One of the team’s most striking findings was on breast cancer. Women who attended services were no more or less likely to contract breast cancer. But those who attended services were substantially less likely to die of it.

“We were quite struck by that,” VanderWeele said. “Maybe it is a sense of hope or of faith, even in the face of illness and disease. A capacity to try to find meaning in the disease experience. Or feeling supported by a community even while struggling with illness. That would be my speculation as to those results. But I do agree it was surprising.”

Daniel Hall, a University of Pittsburgh medical professor not involved in this study who trained as both a doctor and a minister, said that pious people might see this study as affirmation that there is a God listening to the prayers at those worship services, and others might see non-faith-based explanations. “Human beings are so religious in their behaviors. Quite apart from a truth clam in whether there is a God or not, it’s just anthropologically one of the strongest ways human communities are held together,” he said.

Hall said that just as doctors learned in recent decades to be less squeamish about asking about patients’ sex lives, since the information can have medical value, physicians should keep patients’ faith lives in mind.

Click here for the full article.  



The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the United States of America, originally commissioned by SCOBA to create a national, sustainable, and effective media witness for Orthodox Christianity throughout North America. In a constantly changing media landscape, OCN delivers positive, relevant Orthodox content via multiple delivery platforms, reaching today’s internet users via broadcast, video, blogging, and webinar content.

This 501(c)3 is recognized as a leader in the Orthodox Media field and has sustained consistent growth over twenty years. OCN shares the timeless faith of Orthodoxy with the contemporary world through modern media. We are on a mission to inspire Orthodox Christians Worldwide. We have reached 5.7 Million People in One Week. Much like public radio, the Orthodox Christian Network relies on the support of our listeners, readers, and fans. If you are interested in supporting our work, you can send your gift by direct mail, over the phone, or on our website. Your gift will ensure that OCN may continue to offer free, high-quality, theological media.


Spark OCN app is an Orthodox Christian News portal that allows you to take action. Spark provides daily devotions, live Bible study, and you can read and learn about events going on in the Orthodox Christian world, especially those concerning persecuted Christians. In addition to making it easy to share news and articles with friends, Spark allows you make prayer requests for those who are suffering.

Orthodox Prayer Book is the ultimate prayer assistant for Orthodox Christians. Not only does it allow you to carry your prayers around, it was designed from the ground-up for the iPhone to allow you to pray in the least distracting manner possible. Carry all the prayers, information about daily saints and fasting schedules with you throughout your day. Keep a list of people you want to pray for and have them automatically embedded into the prayers.

Click here to download the Spark OCN and Orthodox Prayer Book.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. OCN is on Social Media! Follow us on TwitterFacebookYouTubeGoogle+, and Pinterest

About author

Orthodox Christian News

Orthodox Christian Network brings you news of events and people important to the life of the Orthodox Church around the world. OCN highlights media organizations that track these important stories.