- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE

People who attend religious services regularly are more likely to pick up and maintain healthy habits than less-dedicated church-goers, a new study shows.

It is not certain whether congregations attract people who already smoke and drink less and are more physically active, or if attending services somehow helps promote those behaviors.

"We found that attenders did not all start off with such good behaviors. To some extent, their good health behaviors occurred in conjunction with their attendance," said William Strawbridge, a researcher at the Human Population Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and lead author of the report in the February issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Other studies, including an analysis of past research published last summer, indicate that it is public worship not personal religious involvement that is most important in predicting mortality.

For the latest study, backed by the National Institute on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mr. Strawbridge and his colleagues looked at health surveys on more than 2,600 people going back nearly 30 years to track both their health behaviors and church attendance over the years.

"Individuals who regularly attended religious services were more likely to become more physically active, quit smoking, become less depressed, increase social relationships and initiate and maintain stable marriages," he said.


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