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Friday, 23 July, 1999, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Churchgoing improves life expectancy
Regular churchgoing could extend your life
Regular attendance at religious services has been shown to decrease death rates among old people.

While churchgoers would say they are expecting eternal life, science has demonstrated that they seem to be extending their stay in the mortal plane.

A large US study found that religious folk had lower blood pressure, less depression and anxiety, stronger immune systems and generally cost the health-care system less than people who were less involved in religion.

The research looked at 4,000 old people from North Carolina, and found that of the 1,177 who died during a six-year period, 22.9% were frequent church attenders, compared with 37.4 who were infrequent attenders.

Similar results were produced by the University of California at Berkeley in a study of some 5,000 people aged 21 to 65.

Those who attended religious services at least once a week had a 23% lower risk of dying over the 28 years on which the research was based.

Dr Harold Koenig, from the Duke University Medical Center, said: "Participating in religious services is associated with significant health benefits in elderly people, even when you take into account the fact the religious people tend to start out with better health practices and more social support."

The researchers have a number of theories as to why longevity may be next to Godliness.

They believe that those closely involved in church life would have a larger social network, and hence more social support.

Less depression

In addition, lower levels of depression are known to have a wider health benefit.

In addition, religion provides a coping mechanism for stressful events or physical illness.

Devout worshippers are far less likely to fall back on harmful habits such as drinking or smoking.

Dr Koenig said: "Such positive feelings may counteract stress and convey health effects, like enhanced immune function, that go far beyond the prevention of depression and other negative emotions."

Biblical precedents

Of course, those attending church would say that long life has its precedents in the Christian religion.

After all, Noah is said by the Bible to have lived to the ripe old age of 950, despite all the stress associated with surviving a world-wide flood.

Abraham and his wife Sarah apparently lived to 175 and 127 respectively.

However, the strain of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt and across the desert took its toll on Moses - he lived to only 120.

See also:

17 Apr 99 | Health
Religion tackles mental illness
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