Does Being Religious Make You Live Longer?

Grant Boone
June 16, 2018

A just-released study found that religious people live an average of four years longer than atheists.

Church-goers appear to live up to four years longer than atheists, at least according to an analysis of 1,000 obituaries published across the United States.

Building on previous studies which suggest that volunteering and social events can extend lifespan-both activities which are integral to many religious groups-the researchers combined their new data to unpick whether these explained the spike in longevity.

'We found that volunteerism and involvement in social organisations only accounted for a little less than one year of the longevity boost that religious affiliation provided, ' said Laura Wallace, the study's lead author.

"The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives", co-author Dr Baldwin Way, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State, told the Daily Mail. The figure was also calculated after considering the sex and marital status of the deceased, which are two factors that strongly affect the number of years of a person's life.

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In this study, people whose obits mentioned a religious affiliation lived an average of 5.64 years longer than those whose obits did not, which shrunk to 3.82 years after gender and marital status were considered.

A second study involved over 1,000 obituaries from 42 major USA cities, published on newspaper websites in the year following August 2010.

Also, "many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation", he said. In highly religious cities where it was important for everyone to conform to values and norms, religious people lived longer than their counterparts. "In those areas, non-religious people tend to live as long as do religious people". High duration of life of believers is affected by a more active social life and volunteering, which helps to solve the problem of loneliness and a sedentary lifestyle in old age.

While the study had the advantage of not using self-reported data when determining religious affiliation, it also had limitations such as lacking the inclusion of factors like race and health behaviors.

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