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Medical study: Want to live longer, go to church


Nurses on a hospital ward at Christmas during the 1930s. Photo: theirhistory/Flickr/Creative Commons

Nurses on a hospital ward at Christmas during the 1930s. Photo: theirhistory/Flickr/Creative Commons

A study of 75,534 middle-aged nurses published in JAMA Internal Medicine discovered that church attendance played a key role in nurses living longer.

The study surveyed the lifestyles of this group of nurses between 1992 and 2012. During the ten-year period, 13,537 of the nurses died including 4,479 due to cancer and 2,721 due to cardiovascular problems.

After accounting for lifestyle choices that could lead to early death such as smoking (which can lead to increased cancer risk and heart problems), the researchers discovered if a nurse attended church over once per week they were 33% less likely to die than their non church attending counterparts.

They also discovered that even if nurses attended church less often, they were less likely to die than those who didn’t. Weekly church attendance resulted in a 26% reduction in death and irregular attendance (less than once a week) resulted in a 13% reduction.

The study only analyzed the impact of protestant and Catholic church attendance and did not study any benefits associated with attending services at non-Christian religions.

They also only looked at the impact of church attendance on women. The group led by Tyler J. VanderWeele, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, did note that other studies have shown similar positive benefits for men, though not to the same degree.

The medical researchers also stated that those who attended church were less likely to suffer from depression, were more optimistic and less likely to smoke.

What was particularly curious is that church attendance resulted in less risk of nurses dying from cancer and heart problems. Since risky lifestyles such as smoking were factored out from the calculations, it was uncertain why church attendance on its own would lower risks for these diseases.

In an abstract on their study, the research team concluded:

“Frequent attendance at religious services was associated with significantly lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality among women. Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate.”

Though in an interview with CNN, the group was unwilling to recommend doctors prescribe church attendance as a way of prolonging life, God is not so shy:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
But let your heart keep my commandments;
For length of days and years of life
And peace they will add to you. (Proverbs 3:1-2 NASV)

Sources:

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