A new research paper titled "Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults,” in PLoS One, 2017, finds a connection between religious faith and longevity. Marino Bruce of Vanderbilt University led a team of 11 researchers who analyzed the relationship between religiosity, stress, and death in middle aged people.
They drew on a sample of 5,449 middle-aged Americans (aged 40-65) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This survey included questions on church attendance and 10 stress factors that can be measured in a clinical setting, such as blood pressure and levels of stress-related hormones. Together these factors are known as allostatic load (AL). Previous studies have found a higher AL associated with higher levels of disease and early death.
The authors factored in socioeconomic factors, health insurance status, and behaviors related to health, such as alcohol consumption and diet, tracking their subjects for 14 years to find out whether church attendance may impact the subjects’ health.
Here are some key demographic features of churchgoers.
Churchgoers have a significantly lower risk of dying in the follow-up period.
After adjusting for age, sex, race, and chronic medical conditions, 40- to 65-year-old churchgoers were 46 percent less likely to die in the follow-up period compared to non-churchgoers.
The authors found no statistically significant difference in mortality when measuring how frequently churchgoers attend.
Non-churchgoers had significantly higher rates of three AL factors: blood pressure, HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. Non-churchgoers also had a higher overall AL than churchgoers.
Frequency of attendance did not impact AL. That is, people who attend church once a year and those who attend weekly do not have statistically significant differences in AL.
Lower stress levels are not the only possible explanation for churchgoers’ longer lifespans: Non-churchgoers had a higher mortality rate even after controlling for AL, which suggests religiosity alone may play a factor in longevity.
The report said: “The positive relationship of church attendance with both reduced AL and longevity suggest religiosity can affect two well-described objective health parameters.” It also found that 64 percent of subjects attend church at least once per year and 36 percent said they never do.
Churchgoers are healthier, better educated and economically better off than the American population at large. “Specifically, they were more likely to have higher levels of educational attainment, lower levels of poverty, increased physical activity, reduced rates of smoking and drinking, and a healthier eating index.”