Sunday, December 26, 2004

LONDON — Those who made their once-yearly trip to church on Christmas may want to think again. Research shows that regular churchgoers live longer.

A 12-year study tracking mortality rates of more than 550 subjects older than 65 found that those who attended services at least once a week were 35 percent more likely to live longer than those who never attended church.

The research also found that going to church boosted seniors’ immune systems and made them less likely to suffer clogged arteries or high blood pressure.

“There’s something involved in the act of religious attendance, whether it’s the group interaction, the worldview or just the exercise to get out of the house. There’s something that seems to be beneficial,” said University of Iowa psychology professor Susan Lutgendorf, who carried out the study.

Robert Wallace, a co-author of the report, added that doctors could prescribe a course of church attendance to benefit patients.

“It was an interesting and provocative find,” he said. “I think that now we will be trying to aggregate the meaning and experience of going to church to the extent that one can produce medical intervention based on a better understanding of that.”

The researchers found that among persons who reported never attending religious services, the risk of death over the 12-year period was 52 percent.

By contrast, the risk of death of those who attended church services more than once a week was 17 percent over the same period.

Thirty-five percent of the 64 participants who never attended church died before the end of the study.

By comparison, 85.5 percent of participants who went to church twice or more a week survived.

Regular church attendance was associated with lower levels of Interleukin-6, a chemical that can cause arterial damage at elevated levels and is linked to age-related diseases.

Although the researchers acknowledged that regular churchgoers could lead more abstemious lives, they insisted that they had factored these variants into the study by examining a control group of equally healthy non-churchgoers. The variation, they said, had made no appreciable difference.

“It is possible that more frequent religious attenders may have engaged in better health behaviors, such as exercise or lower dietary fat intake,” the researchers wrote.

“The present data included a limited assessment of health behaviors such as smoking, sleep, alcohol intake, cigarette use and obesity.

“This is the first study of which we are aware to find support for the hypothesis that more frequent religious attendance in a population-based sample of older adults is associated with lower mortality.”

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