A new study shows that older women who regularly attend religious services reduce their risk of death by 20%. The study was published in Psychology and Health.
Researchers from Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine grouped all religions together, looking only at whether the women attended services regularly and whether those services brought them comfort.
Organized religion creates a social network with regular routines, which is known to enhance well-being. However, even when researchers adjusted for that factor, the women going to services were still less likely to die.
"Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices, and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption," lead author and clinical assistant professor of psychology Eliezer Schnall says in a news release. "There is something here that we don't quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results."
Researchers evaluated 92,395 postmenopausal women participating in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, a national, multi-ethnic, long-term study aimed at addressing women's health issues funded by the National Institutes of Health. The women, all between the ages of 50 and 79, answered questions about their behaviors, health, and religious practices.
Researchers followed participants for an average of 7.7 years and made adjustments for known risk factors, such as age and health history, when evaluating risk of death. They found that women attending religious services at least once per week showed a 20% mortality risk reduction compared to those not attending services at all.
In addition to looking at mortality broadly, researchers examined the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. They did not find that religion had an impact on the women's risk of death by this particular cause.