On most Sunday mornings our household is as busy as a bee’s nest. Getting kids up, fed, teeth and hair brushed, clothes without stains or holes- it’s no small task! I’m sure many of you with children can relate. Our family goes through this routine almost every Sunday morning, not because we think it will prolong our lives, but because it is something we want to do and we enjoy it. However, a large body of research evidence is now suggesting that attending religious services positively impacts longevity. McCullough and colleagues (2000) published a study in the Journal Health Psychology in which they examined data from 42 samples or studies that looked at religious involvement and death rates. They found that people who rated themselves as being highly religious were about 30% more likely to be alive, than those who were less religious, at various follow-up points.
The authors concluded that “Although the correlational nature of the data prohibit causal inferences, religious involvement has a nontrivial, favorable association with all-cause mortality”. In other words, attending religious services doesn’t necessarily cause you to live longer, but there appears to be a relationship or association between the two variables. It is well known that people with stronger social ties live longer and are generally healthier people. This certainly could contribute to why people who attend religious services live longer. Other contributing factors might include people who attend religious services tend to engage in less risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and doing drugs, watch out for each other, have less stress, and are better able to cope with stress and traumatic events in their lives. Another possible reason might be that established routines and rituals in people’s lives give them something to look forward to and a sense of meaning and purpose.
McCullough M, Larson D, Hoyt W, Koenig H: Religious involvement and mortality: a meta-analytic review. Health Psychology (2000), Vol 19, pps. 211-222.