Where Science and Faith Converge

Live Long and Prosper: Going to Church Increases Lifespan

By Guest Writer - August 20, 2010

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart.
If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Proverbs 3:1–2 (NLT)

OK, I know there must be some Star Trek fans out there among the Today’s New Reason to Believe readers. Come on, admit it. Unless you’ve undergone self-imposed isolation from the world for the last 45 years, you have likely seen Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, giving the Vulcan salute and saying, “Live long and prosper.” (I am pretty sure I mastered the Vulcan salute as a child). And chances are if you remember watching the original Star Trek series in the 1960s, then you’ve probably given some thought to things you can do to live a longer and happier life.

Healthy eating habits and regular exercise rank among the top life-prolonging activities. But there is one activity with potentially life-prolonging benefits that you may not have considered: going to church. That’s right—studies show that attending a religious service more than once a week has the potential to help you live longer.

Several years ago, a group of scientists conducted research on data collected from a large survey, principally from the National Health Interview Survey.1 For this study, information from over 21,000 people—an amount considered a “nationally representative sample”—was used. 

Here’s what the researchers found: compared to those who never attend religious services, people who attend church, temple, or synagogue more than once a week, have the equivalent of a 7.5-year-longer life expectancy! Those who do not attend religious services have a 1.87 times higher risk of death for most causes within eight years.

So does this mean that if someone is a dedicated church attendee, they have a good chance of living a healthier lifestyle than someone who never attends church? Yes, indeed, that is true. However, even after controlling for various factors, such as demographics, health status, socioeconomic status, and social ties, the researchers still found a strong (1.5x) and significant (p<0.01) positive impact attending religious services had on the life expectancy of attendees.

It seems that Proverbs’ prescription for long life has some scientific backing. In Proverbs 3, God tells us what to do in order to “live many years.” Never forget the things He teaches us and store His commands in our hearts. One good way to not forget His teachings is to stay active in church by getting involved in a Bible study group or another church related activity. The Hummer study did show a smaller (1.21) but still significant (p<0.05) health improvement for those who attended church once a week, even after correcting for all the factors mentioned above. The larger effect was seen in those who went more than once a week.

So there you have it—going to church helps you live longer. Perhaps if Spock were familiar with this recent research he might say going to church will help you “live long and prosper”!

James C. Patterson
James C. Patterson II, MD, PhD

Dr. James C. Patterson II received his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1996, and currently serves as Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Emergency Psychiatry at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is also a member of the Shreveport Chapter of RTB.
  1. Robert A. Hummer et al., “Religious Involvement and U.S. Adult Mortality,” Demography 36, no. 2 (May 1999): 273–85.

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