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Weekly attendance at religious services can add up to three years to your life, a new US medical study has found.
Dr. Daniel Hall, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the author of the study published in the March-April issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, compared the impact of regular exercise, statin therapy and religious attendance on life expectancy, and found that each accounted for an additional two to five years of life.
Hall found that regular physical exercise provides the greatest boost to longevity, adding 3.0 to 5.1 years. Use of statin medications accounted for 2.1 to 3.7 additional years, while regular religious attendance added 1.8 to 3.1 years.
"This is not to say that religious attendance should replace primary prevention, such as exercise or a proven drug therapy," Hall said, "but it does suggest that regular religious attendance is associated with a substantially longer life expectancy."
While Christians comprised the overwhelming majority of those examined in the US-based study, observant Hindus, Muslims and Jews also were found among the subject populations.
Hall told The Jerusalem Post that religious attendance "cannot be manipulated in the same way you can manipulate other things in health care," and cautioned against making a facile conclusion about the health benefits of simply attending services.
"If you put your eggs in the basket of 'get religion because it works,' you will end up with an empty basket," he said, arguing that religious belief should be viewed as a "demographic" factor, akin to race and ethnicity in looking at the health of an individual.
"Unlike other health behaviors, such as exercise, there are practical and ethical problems with recommending 'therapeutic' changes in religious behavior, and there is no evidence that changing religious attendance causes a change in health outcomes," Hall said.
However, "something is going on here that deserves further consideration and further study," he said.
A graduate of Yale University's Divinity School and School of Medicine, Hall noted that "medicine is not a pure science, it is a moral tradition. It is about discerning what would be good for a patient and then using available technology to achieve that good."
"Science can never tell us what will be good," he said. "It has to be something that comes from our moral tradition and our moral discourse."