Religion certainly adds depth to people’s lives, but can it also add years? A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2016 found that in fact it can. The research, which studied women only,* found that those who attend religious services (most of the participants in the study were Protestant or Catholic) more than once a week had a 33 percent lower risk of early death than those who did not.
Something Bigger Than Yourself
Being involved with a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship can add meaning and purpose to your life when you feel at loose ends – whether it’s because you’re no longer working, your kids are gone, or your spouse or friends have passed away. This purpose, in turn, has been shown to nourish you and bolster your spirit in a way that also positively impacts physical health.
The Power of Community
Joining a Bible study group, volunteering to help with behind-the-scenes needs such as childcare or cooking, or just attending services on a regular basis keeps you engaged and gives you a feeling of connection, which can bring support and comfort when you’re facing the challenges that come with aging. In fact, the word “religion” comes from the Latin word religare, which means “to tie or bind.” This support system can also guard against isolation and depression, which can bring about health problems and shorten lifespan.
Even a Boon for Cognitive Health
According to International Psychogeriatrics, religion can also impact your mental health, improving cognitive disorders or at least stabilizing or slowing decline, as well as improving your quality of life. Interestingly, a collaborative study between professors at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute also found a direct correlation between how important spirituality is to a person and the thickness of that person’s cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for sensory perception, language and processing of emotion.
Spiritual involvement also quite simply gives you a reason to wake up, get out of bed and venture out into the world. That, in itself, can positive impact your physical and your emotional health in significant ways.
*NOTE: While this study was restricted to women, similar studies including men have found religious practice benefits them too; however, not as profoundly as their female counterparts.