Worshipping at a church, synagogue or mosque can improve physical health, extend lifespan and lower stress levels, a new American study claim.
Researchers at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University studied 5,500 people of both genders and all races, almost two-thirds of whom (64 percent) regularly attended worship services.
The team of behavioural scientists found that the religious participants scored significantly better in terms of heart health, nutrition, and metabolic health.
The favourable scores were seen most clearly among middle-aged adults (aged 40 to 65), who had far better health if they attended religious gatherings.
The research was led by Marino Bruce, a behavioural scientist and ordained Baptist Minister, who worked with nine co-authors on the study, including Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“Our findings support the overall hypothesis that increased religiosity—as determined by attendance at worship services—is associated with less stress and enhanced longevity,” said Bruce.
“We’ve found that being in a place where you can flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health.
“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.’”
But the new research findings, he said, are “encouraging individuals to participate in something.”
The study employed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.
The scientists noted each person’s attendance at worship services, as well as their health in several categories. They specifically looked at their “allostatic load” – a measurement of many factors, including heart health, nutrition, and metabolic health.
Non-worshippers were found to have significantly higher overall allostatic load scores, indicating a high level of stress and a poor level of overall physical health.
They were also more likely to have severe health issues in one of the categories, compared to participants who worshipped regularly.
The positive effects of attendance at worship services remained after education, poverty, social support status and health insurance were taken into consideration.
The study was published in the journal PLUS ONE.