ISLAMABAD: A recent study published in the journal PLOS One has revealed that regularly attending religious ceremonies, such as a mass or a funeral, may lead to greater health and increased longevity in middle-aged people and seniors.
Regardless of your religion, attending religious ceremonies may do wonders for your health.

The researchers — based at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, GA — were curious about the consequences that religious lifestyles might have on the healthspan and lifespan of middle-aged and older adults.

The paper's first author is Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., a joint-appointed professor in epidemiology from the Emory Rollins School of Public Health and Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of sociology.

She explains the motivation behind the research, saying, "We wanted to link the research on religion — especially religious attendance — into the social determinants of health framework," says Prof. Idler.

To this end, Prof. Idler and colleagues examined the data available from the Health and Retirement Study — a longitudinal study of the "health and economic circumstances" of over-50s in the United States — of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Death risk cut by 40 percent

Prof. Idler and her collegues focused on the data gathered between 2004 and 2014 on more than 18,000 participants. The scientists applied Cox proportional hazards models to calculate the link between religious attendance and all-cause mortality during the decade studied.

The researchers included variables such as religious attendance, the importance of religion, and religious affiliation. Gender, race or ethnicity, education, and income were also considered as potential determinants of health.

They sum up the findings, saying, "After adjustment for confounders, attendance at religious services had a dose-response relationship with mortality, such that respondents who attended frequently [i.e., at least once a week] had a 40 [percent] lower hazard of mortality [...] compared with those who never attended."

Additionally, even people who attended religious ceremonies less often also had a lower chance of dying prematurely, compared with those who did not take part in religious services at all.

The researchers note that this positive effect on health was comparable with that of having a higher income.

However, those who considered religion "very" important had a 4 percent higher risk of mortality. All the associations found were independent of religious affiliation.

Why religious attendance is important

Commenting on the findings, Prof. Idler explains, "With this paper, we were able to take a theory and a conceptual framework to real data and came back with some dramatic findings."

While this was an observational study that cannot explain causality, the authors speculate on the potential reasons for the results.

It could be the case, they write, that people who go to religious ceremonies also tend to have healthier behaviors, such as not smoking or consuming alcohol.

Benefiting from the support of a community or helping others may also be the underlying causes for the health benefits of religious ceremonies.

As for the slight increase in mortality risk found for those who consider religion very important, the authors explain, "An increased feeling of the importance of religion in old age may coincide with illness, physical decline, and a resulting need for comfort or consolation."