Study suggests attending religious services sharply cuts risk of death

November 20, 2008

A study published by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, strongly suggests that regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death by approximately 20 percent. The findings, published in Psychology and Health, were based on data drawn from participants who spanned numerous religious denominations.

The research was conducted by Eliezer Schnall, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University, and co-authored by Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein, as an ancillary study of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI is a national, long-term study aimed at addressing women's health issues and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers evaluated the religious practices of 92,395 post-menopausal women participating in the WHI. They examined the prospective association of religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion with subsequent cardiovascular events and overall rates of mortality. Although the study showed as much as a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality for those attending religious services, it did not show any consistent change in rates of morbidity and death specifically related to cardiovascular disease, with no explanation readily evident.

The study adjusted for participation of individuals within communal organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness. However, even after controlling for such behavior and other health-related factors, the improvements in morbidity and mortality rates exceeded expectations.

"Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption," said Dr. Schnall, who was lead author of the study. "There is something here that we don't quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results," he added.

During WHI enrollment, study participants, aged 50 to79, were recruited on a voluntary basis from a variety of sources, from all over the nation. The women answered questions about baseline health conditions and religiosity and were followed by WHI researchers for an average of 7.7 years, with potential study outcomes of cardiovascular events and mortality adjudicated by trained physicians.

To evaluate the impact of religiosity on mortality and morbidity, the investigators looked at variables including self-report of religious affiliation, frequency of religious service attendance, and religious strength as well as comfort, in relation to coronary heart disease (CHD) and death. It is important to note that the study did not attempt to measure spirituality; rather, it examined self-report religiosity measures (irrespective of the participant's religion). Participants answered three key questions at registration, regarding:

-- religious affiliation (yes or no);
-- how often services were attended (never, less than once per week, once per week, or more than once per week);
-- if religion provided strength and comfort (none, a little, a great deal).

Those attending religious services at least once per week showed a 20 percent mortality risk reduction mark compared with those not attending services at all. These findings corroborate prior studies that have shown up to a 25 percent reduction in such risk.

The study investigators concluded that although religious behavior (as defined by the study's criteria) is associated with a reduction in death rates among the study population, the physical relationships leading to that effect are not yet understood and require further investigation. "The next step is to figure out how the effect of religiosity is translated into biological mechanisms that affect rates of survival," said Dr. Smoller. "However, we do not infer causation even from a prospective study, as that can only be done through a clinical trial.

She added, "There may be confounding factors that we can't determine, such as a selection bias, which would lead people who are at reduced risk for an impending event to also be the ones who attend services."

The investigators are considering doing an analysis of psychological profiles of women in the study to determine if such profiles can help to explain the apparent protective effects of attending religious services.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Explore further: Frequent religious service attendance linked with decreased mortality risk among women

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18 comments

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JoeFek
5 / 5 (8) Nov 20, 2008
Unfortunately, attending religious services doesn't prevent death, which is met with 100% certainty. Until church going can prove immortality, I'll take my chances with diet and exercise.
bhiestand
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2008
You should make that diet, exercise, and a healthy social life. I don't know if its' a factor here, but I know other studies have found that the social networks and interaction created through church attendance led to increased happiness and reduced crime rates.
bmcghie
5 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2008
I wondered about the wording there... "Although the study showed as much as a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality for those attending religious services"... I'm going to agree with JoeFek on this one, and call bullshit on the reduction of the "risk of mortality." What a joke.
WilliamHeinz
3 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2008
So people NOT attending services have a higher risk of death.
Those people will be spending their time in another way:
Playing sports.
Hanging around the mall.
Walking around town.

There you have it: Those people will have more and riskier cardiac activity, get mugged, or hit by cars.

It's just safer inside the church.
rab96
1.6 / 5 (9) Nov 21, 2008
I have witnessed a case where a patient who had a severe brain stroke was saved through the power of prayer. He is recovering now. The doctors speak of a miracle. You can read more at jpsoffice.com
acarrilho
5 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2008
There are doctors and there are "doctors".
Velanarris
5 / 5 (7) Nov 21, 2008
I have witnessed a case where a patient who had a severe brain stroke was saved through the power of prayer. He is recovering now. The doctors speak of a miracle. You can read more at jpsoffice.com
I've witnessed several thousand cases where a patient with a terminal disease went to church and subsequently died.

1 out of a million is not a miracle, it is the law of probability.
Yes
1 / 5 (9) Nov 21, 2008
God has cured every illness that has ever been cured and has healed every wound ever inflicted. Hence He is responsible not only for the said miracles. All cures are therefore miracles.
Medical science only dedicates itself entirely to improving the biological circumstances to have God be able to finish the job.
Medical science does a good job, however has never ever cured anybody.
God does this very constantly and does not look at the face or status of anybody before acting.
So the works of God are a constant. We can therefore conclude that dGod/dt=0.
dGod/dt=0 means that God is unmeasurable. it does not mean that God is biased.
So why did those people measure that churchgoers are "healthier"? The answer is simple. Worship also adds to your good health.
For the rest the churchgoers and non churchgoers are probably homogeneous in diet and sports activities and other things. So going to worship helps and that is simply measured.

Have fun suppressing this quote, because you guys are biased.
GIR
3.8 / 5 (5) Nov 21, 2008
@Yes

You make many claims. I have no intention of "suppressing" your quote. I simply do not give bold assertions with no support much credit.

Medical science only dedicates itself entirely to improving the biological circumstances to have God be able to finish the job.


I am curious, if I have a clogged artery causing heart problems and a doctor places a stent to open it back up how does God finish the job?

Even if our religious views (or lack there of) differ can you not concede that perhaps medical science furthers our understanding of the processes that God put in place? Maybe doctors can work within the parameters of God's design and achieve a miracle free cure.

I respect your right to believe what you like but doctors work very hard and provide an invaluable service. Do not lessen their contributions by not giving credit where credit is due.
moj85
5 / 5 (4) Nov 21, 2008
I wonder if they looked at the group of people that 'regularly went to services' but did not feel very strongly that 'church provided strength and comfort'. Perhaps theres a psychosomatic thing going on? People who THINK religion is helping them is going to help them, perhaps. Might be tough to find a large enough population that go to church but don't believe it has a 'great deal' of strength and comfort.
GrayMouser
5 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2008
New title: "Living sharply increases the chance of death!"
Velanarris
5 / 5 (5) Nov 21, 2008
God has cured every illness that has ever been cured and has healed every wound ever inflicted. Hence He is responsible not only for the said miracles. All cures are therefore miracles.
Medical science only dedicates itself entirely to improving the biological circumstances to have God be able to finish the job.
Medical science does a good job, however has never ever cured anybody.
God does this very constantly and does not look at the face or status of anybody before acting.
So the works of God are a constant. We can therefore conclude that dGod/dt=0.
dGod/dt=0 means that God is unmeasurable. it does not mean that God is biased.
So why did those people measure that churchgoers are "healthier"? The answer is simple. Worship also adds to your good health.
For the rest the churchgoers and non churchgoers are probably homogeneous in diet and sports activities and other things. So going to worship helps and that is simply measured.

Have fun suppressing this quote, because you guys are biased.


I'll make my reply short and sweet.

Yes, you are right to say that a lack of evidence does not mean that God doesn't exist, however, I am also right in saying that until there is evidence to link the benefits of medicine to God, there exists no such link. Afterall, according to the Christian faith, of which I assume you are speaking, God gave us free will and does not interfere in our free will. Meaning for God to give us medicine and to make medicine possible he would have to interfere with our free will. Quite a paradox for the faithful I'd say.
CWFlink
3.3 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2008
If God exists (i.e. almighty being) and wants us to love Him (i.e. not be enslaved by Him, but choose to love Him) then He would create a world in which we would have free will (i.e. not be able to either prove or disprove His existence.) Without free will, "Faith" is not necessary. God's love would be "forced" on us. (This has been crudely but correctly described as being "raped" by such a god.)

So, from logic alone, by definition of what many of us mean by "God", it is foolish for people to go around claiming they can prove or disprove His existence.

As to the study.... no doubt the lack of anxiety felt by those who believe in an afterlife contributes to longevity. Further, those who participate in church services where other members provide psychological support and encouragement certainly feel better and just plain having confidence and feeling loved contributes to recovery from illness.

Finally, I do believe we have a spiritual dimension to our lives... but as I said above, it is clearly impossible to prove this one way or the other.
Roj
5 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2008
saved through the power of prayer


I don't feel the love from responses to this comment. (ie) below:

bullshit on the reduction of the "risk of mortality." What a joke.


If placebo still effects ~10% of positive results in clinical trials, the placebo influence must be controlled before physiological efficacy is suggested for the drug, technique, or lifestyle change.

If controlling for prayer-related suggestion, as a placebo, makes religious groups more equal to other groups, then scientific methods are challenged to benefit from similar or superior cognitive placebos.

Perhaps we shed Witch doctors and absolute theocracy from our ancestors, but mockery of people inheriting such beliefs does not cure me from joining them. You must show me a superior tool for working with my world.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.6 / 5 (7) Nov 21, 2008
"There is something here that we don't quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results," he added.


Indeed:

1 Kings 3:14
And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.

Proverbs 3:1
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: 2For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.

Deuteronomy 30:20
That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

MongHTan,PhD
1 / 5 (5) Nov 22, 2008
RE: How future rationalists, scholars, philosophers (of Science and Religion) should interpret Religionism (or God) scientifically and spiritually!?

I'll make my reply short and sweet.

Yes, you are right to say that a lack of evidence does not mean that God doesn't exist, however, I am also right in saying that until there is evidence to link the benefits of medicine to God, there exists no such link.


1] Yes, there is a link between the benefits of biomedicine to God: if one could or would interpret God as a "good thought" as "One" in those self-soothing (wishful thinking) monotheistic prayers; or as "One mindfulness" in those self-calming meditative practices, etc.

The biomedical benefits of praying (or meditating or wishful thinking) are all in the psychological and the hormonal -- via both our voluntary central nervous system (brain) and autonomous neuro-endocrino-cardiac system (heart) -- as all these self-quieting (or goodwill-disciplining) experiences could indeed neurophysiologically help ease and/or release one's tensions in distressful and/or stressful situations.

Thus, this could explain Why "the study showed as much as a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality for those attending religious services." And,

Afterall, according to the Christian faith, of which I assume you are speaking, God gave us free will and does not interfere in our free will. Meaning for God to give us medicine and to make medicine possible he would have to interfere with our free will. Quite a paradox for the faithful I'd say.


2] No, this is not a paradox at all: if one could sincerely interpret God as a "good thought" or "goodwill" generated in and by one's own "freewill" and understanding. Thus, all goodwill (as in one's good thought of God, kindness, freedom, etc) shall enhance one's good health -- psychosomatically and spiritually -- as explained in 1] above.

3] As such, these new interpretations and understanding of God issues can also help resolve the critical comments of these related religious -- psychosomatic, spiritual and freewill -- issues, as quoted below:
If God exists (i.e. almighty being) and wants us to love Him (i.e. not be enslaved by Him, but choose to love Him) then He would create a world in which we would have free will (i.e. not be able to either prove or disprove His existence.) Without free will, "Faith" is not necessary. God's love would be "forced" on us. (This has been crudely but correctly described as being "raped" by such a god.)

So, from logic alone, by definition of what many of us mean by "God", it is foolish for people to go around claiming they can prove or disprove His existence.

As to the study.... no doubt the lack of anxiety felt by those who believe in an afterlife contributes to longevity. Further, those who participate in church services where other members provide psychological support and encouragement certainly feel better and just plain having confidence and feeling loved contributes to recovery from illness.

Finally, I do believe we have a spiritual dimension to our lives... but as I said above, it is clearly impossible to prove this one way or the other.


4] Last, but not least:
@Yes

You make many claims. I have no intention of "suppressing" your quote. I simply do not give bold assertions with no support much credit.

Medical science only dedicates itself entirely to improving the biological circumstances to have God be able to finish the job.


I am curious, if I have a clogged artery causing heart problems and a doctor places a stent to open it back up how does God finish the job?

Even if our religious views (or lack there of) differ can you not concede that perhaps medical science furthers our understanding of the processes that God put in place? Maybe doctors can work within the parameters of God's design and achieve a miracle free cure.

I respect your right to believe what you like but doctors work very hard and provide an invaluable service. Do not lessen their contributions by not giving credit where credit is due.


And more "Biomedicine vs. Religionism or God" controversies (as quested by Yes) could be found here: http://www.physor...50.html.

Best wishes, Mong, author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (2006: www.iuniverse.com...95379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006: http://www2.blogg...50569778 ).
Szkeptik
5 / 5 (4) Nov 23, 2008
This study is very interesting given that people in developed, less religious nations tend to live much longer.
Sancho
5 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2008
Studies based on self-evaluated criteria are a joke. Such a study was conducted in "Lake Woebegone" recently; it found that, according to their parents, all the children there are "above average."

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