By ERIC NAGOURNEY, NEW YORK TIMES
Many people believe that going to religious services may be good for the afterlife. But researchers have found that it may not be so bad in the here and now.
A new study, which followed the health of more than 90,000 women over an average of more than seven years each, found that those who attended services were one-fifth less likely to die than those who did not.
The subject has been controversial, and the authors of the study, which appears in Psychology & Health, were at pains not to appear to be making a link between religion itself and health.
“I don’t want to go beyond what the facts are showing us, and I want to be cautious,” said the lead author of the study, Eliezer Schnall of Yeshiva University.
Whatever the explanation, the researchers found a significant difference over the course of the study in the death rate of women who reported attending the services of Christian, Jewish and other faiths at least once a week.
The researchers used information from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study looking at women 50 to 79 at 40 locations around the United States.
The researchers also looked to see if religious observance played a role in reducing heart disease. Though the findings did not support that, they did show a lower rate of death from all causes.
The reason is not clear, although earlier studies have suggested that people who are part of strong social networks tend to be healthier. Some religious people may also be more likely to refrain from tobacco or alcohol.
Those who are moved by the findings to make their way to church, temple or mosque should note that the researchers did not provide the answer to one question: which religion had the healthiest members.