Going to religious services will make you live longer - study

Whether it be church, synagogue, mosque or a different house of worship, scientists agree that going to services is good for your health.

 THE INTERIOR of the historic Main Synagogue, aka the Great Synagogue, which is now closed. (photo credit: ODESSA WALKS)
THE INTERIOR of the historic Main Synagogue, aka the Great Synagogue, which is now closed.
(photo credit: ODESSA WALKS)

For many, religious observance is very beneficial to social life and mental health. A recent study, however, suggests that regular religious service attendance can extend longevity. 

"Synagogue attendance is seen to promote survival mainly through its function as a source of communal attachment and, perhaps, as a reflection of spirituality as well."

Litwin, H. What really matters in the social network–mortality association? A multivariate examination among older Jewish-Israelis. Eur J Ageing 4, 71–82 (2007).

A September 2022 study focused on Black American men over the age of 50 and their church attendance. Researchers found that those who attended church regularly had a lower general mortality rate than the rest.

These findings are significant in the larger context of the Black experience in America, which, from a health and wellness perspective, can be less than ideal.

The study, published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed publication PLOS ONE, points out that although scientific and medical advances allow individuals in the United States to live long, healthy lives, "the life expectancy for Black men remains significantly shorter than for other groups of women and men."

This is supported by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics which state that the general mortality rate for Black Americans is consistently higher than other racial and ethnic groups across the board. 

“Black men have been oppressed, commodified, surveilled and criminalized like no other group in US history and they often experience disproportionately high levels of social and psychological stress from structural racism, institutional discrimination and unfair treatment from early childhood through late adulthood,” study author Marino Bruce of the University of Houston and his collaborators reported in the article.

 The Mar Thomas Church in Mosul, Iraq (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons) The Mar Thomas Church in Mosul, Iraq (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

"There is something powerful about the communal religious experience. These are systems of thought and practice shaped over millennia, and they are powerful.”

Tyler VanderWeele, Harvard University 

“Churches and similar institutions represent a safe space,” Bruce continued. “They receive affirmation, and the messages delivered are intended specifically for them.”

The study acknowledged, too, that its findings were in line with previous studies of a similar nature, which examined the effects of religious service attendance on wider populations.

Does this apply to Jews?

Most publicly available articles on US religious service statistics are specific to Christians and church services, but not all. A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Aging used data specific to Israeli Jewish men and women over the age of 70, and found that "Synagogue attendance is seen to promote survival mainly through its function as a source of communal attachment and, perhaps, as a reflection of spirituality as well."

More recently, a 2016 Harvard study in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, evaluated data from over 75,000 American women of varying faiths - although most were Christian- and came to the same conclusion. Specifically, it stated that “religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate.” Researchers at Harvard also ruled out the possibility of reverse causation- that healthy people go to services more than those at higher mortality risk. 

The Harvard study's senior author, Tyler VanderWeele, summarized his findings in an interview with the New York Times in 2016, saying: “This suggests that there is something powerful about the communal religious experience. These are systems of thought and practice shaped over millennia, and they are powerful.”