Researchers pinpoint a connection between religion and health

A Vanderbilt University study found that people who attend services at a church, synagogue or mosque are less stressed and live longer.

The research included adult men and women ages 40-65 in examining the relationship between religiosity (i.e. church attendance) and the cause of mortality in middle-aged adults. Those who attended church or other houses of worship reduced their risk for death by 55%.

“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,” said Marino Bruce, a social and behavioral scientist and associate director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt, in a university press release. Bruce is also a Baptist minister.

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

The study, “Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults,” was published in May in PLOS ONE, a multidisciplinary open access journal, using 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. The data are available to the public. Bruce is the main author of the study with Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. There are nine other co-authors.

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 ratio 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.

The team surveyed 5,449 people of all races and both sexes, of whom 64% were regular worshipers. 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. The study did not address the effects of frequency of worship.