By Rev. Joseph M. Esper
Do religious believers live longer, healthier lives than non-believers? Much of the evidence suggests the answer to this question is a resounding yes.
For instance, a two-year study at Yale University found that the mortality rate for elderly men and women who don’t greatly value religion is twice as high as for elderly persons who consider religion very important.
Also, according to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin, the life expectancy gap between those who attend church more than once a week, and those who never attend, is over seven years—in favor of the churchgoers.
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A researcher working for the National Institute of Mental Health said, “I had set out to show that religion wasn’t harmful or neutral to mental health. What I found was that for nearly 90 percent of worshipers, religion was a powerful help. In fact, the people who were the most faithful and attended services once a week or more were the ones who suffered the least psychological turmoil, even when dealt the hard blows of life.”
Evidence continues to mount that religious faith and personal health are closely linked. Believers have a lower risk of experiencing depression, mental illness, and drug abuse, than do non-believers; furthermore, many studies have shown that religious commitment can be a major factor in preventing alcoholism. A study at Wayne State University in Detroit discovered that persons who do not attend church are four times as likely to commit suicide as churchgoers. Another study showed that as people increased the amount of time spent in prayer, their emotional and physical well-being increased as well.
Medical research has shown that elderly women with strong faith recover faster from surgery, have greater stamina, and experience better emotional health, than similar women without faith who underwent the same surgery. Religion also helps prevent hypertension. For example, cigarette smokers who downgrade religion’s importance are seven times as likely to have abnormal blood pressure than smokers who consider religion very important. In fact, smokers who attend church generally have the same blood pressure rate as non-smokers who do not attend church. (This should not, of course, be used as an excuse for church-goers to begin smoking.)
The primary purpose of belonging to and attending a church, needless to say, is to express and share our belief in God—but it’s no surprise that doing this has some very practical benefits. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16 ), and giving the Lord an important place in our lives means we’re tuning into the creative energy or force which underlies and makes possible all things that exist—and getting in touch with our “roots” in this manner is an extraordinarily healthy thing to do.