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Newly released UC study says regular churchgoing links with longer lives

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Thursday April 04, 2002

Church is good for you, according to a new Bay Area study, which will be published in today’s edition of the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine.  

The study, conducted by UC Berkeley in conjunction with the California Department of Health and the Public Health Institute, a local nonprofit, adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that regular church attendance is linked to longer, healthier lives. 

The study, which draws on an Alameda County survey conducted during the course of 31 years, found that people who attended religious services less than once a week or never had a 21 percent greater risk of dying from circulatory diseases and a 21 percent greater overall risk of dying, even when controlling for other factors like age and exercise patterns. 

“Because of religious faith, frequent attendees may have greater access to what is called ‘religious coping mechanisms,’” said Doug Oman, a lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and co-author of the study. 

Oman said religious people may subscribe to the notion that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” allowing them to quickly recover equilibrium after a stressful event and avoid circulatory and other diseases. 

The study also suggested that regular attendees have lower mortality rates from respiratory and digestive diseases. Those who attended church less than weekly had a 66 percent greater risk of dying from respiratory and 99 percent greater chance of dying from digestive diseases. 

Oman warns that the sample size for these diseases were smaller, which may have distorted the figures. But the trend, he said, is unmistakable. 

The new study, which found no significant differences between regular churchgoers and the population at large when it came to cancer, mirrors the results of a national study conducted by University of Texas researchers in 1999. 

Other studies have suggested that Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists live longer, healthier lives because their religions encourage abstention from smoking, high-fat diets and other risk factors. 

Oman said his study still leaves several questions unanswered. 

“It will be interesting to find out about people who describe themselves as spiritual and not religious,” said Oman, noting that the “spiritual” category has only showed up on recent surveys, and that long-term studies will therefore take time to unfold.