June 4, 2000
Analysis of Studies Shows That Religious Involvement May be a Factor in Living a Long Life
Forty-two studies, nearly 126,000 people were examined
WASHINGTON - Nearly 96 percent of Americans believe in God or in some universal spirit, according to a 1995 Gallup poll. Maybe people are more health conscious than previously thought. Regular attendance at one's church, synagogue, mosque or Buddhist monastery is related to longer life, according to a meta-analysis of 42 studies that examined 125,826 people which is reported in the current issue of Health Psychology published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
"The odds of survival for people who scored higher on measures of public and private religious involvement were 29 percent higher than those people who scored lower on such measures," said psychologist and lead author Michael E. McCullough, Ph.D., of the National Institute for Healthcare Research. Public religious involvement is defined by how frequently a person attends church or temple, whether a person is a member of a religious organization (a religious kibbutz) or how much spare time a person spends in church or temple activities. Private religious involvement includes measures such as self-rated religiousness, frequency of private prayer and use of religion as a coping resource.
Follow-up results indicated that involvement in public religious activity was particularly important in predicting mortality, according to the study. This held true for nearly all the studies individually but was certainly true for the entire group of studies as a whole.
Being involved in religion seems to explain a small part of why some people live longer than others, said the authors, but other reasons for longevity include a person's race, age, education, social support and physical health. "Moreover, results seemed to indicate that those people with a high level of religious involvement were also less obese. In part, the effects of religious involvement on physical health variables like obesity appear to explain why religious involvement predicts reduced risk of mortality," said Dr. McCullough.
The health benefits of being religious (more publicly than privately) may also be partially due to the social support and friendship making derived from frequent attendance at religious services, according to the authors.
The authors suggest that people who are actively religious also tend to take better care of themselves in several health areas and this may account for their longevity status. Whatever the reasons for the association of religious involvement with increased life expectancy, Dr. McCullough says, "this is a phenomenon that deserves a lot more research attention than it has traditionally received."
Article: "Religious Involvement and Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review," Michael E. McCullough, Ph.D., and David B. Larson, Ph.D., National Institute for Healthcare Research, Rockville, MD, William T. Hoyt, Ph.D., Iowa State University and University of Wisconsin, Madison, Harold G. Koenig, Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center and Carl E. Thoresen, Ph.D., Stanford University, Health Psychology, Vol. 19, No. 3.
Michael E. McCullough, Ph.D., can be reached by telephone at 301-984-7162
The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.