Of the 40 percent of people who attend church, 23 percent do so for spiritual growth and guidance, 20 percent because it kept them grounded and inspired, 15 percent because it was their faith, and another 15 percent to worship God, according to the Gallup poll. But research shows there are some other beneficial reasons to make it to church regularly, and perhaps one of the biggest advantages is a longer life.
In 2016, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published research that collected data over a four-year period from nearly 75,000 nurses. Each participant answered a series of questions about why they attended church. And what did they find? Surprisingly, women who attended church more than once a week had a 33 percent lower risk of mortality and lived five months longer on average.
Perhaps longer life can be linked to the other health benefits that researchers have associated with regular church attendance. Take, for example, the nearly 30-year study out of the Human Population Laboratory in Berkeley, California. In this study of 2,600 people, it was found that those who regularly attended faith services smoked and drank less, exercised more, experienced decreased blood pressure, had fewer occurrences of depression and anxiety, increased immune systems and better weight management. All excellent benefits.
But again, why?
Experts have theorized that the health benefits that came along with public worship are at least partially due to the social support and friendships that develop as a result of regular attendance. And that leads us to our next benefit, a strong social network.
In a national survey commissioned by AARP, for example, 35 percent of participants reported feeling lonely. And respondents who felt lonely were less likely to be involved in regular activities, such as “religious services, volunteering, participating in a community organization, or spending time on a hobby.” The survey also reported that loneliness leads to poor health outcomes.
Due to life circumstances that may be unique to their age or health concerns, elderly people often confront a variety of emotions or mindsets that may be somewhat debilitating and hard to bear. These include a sense of isolation, loneliness, boredom, and grief, as well as others.
In order to combat the poor health outcomes, such as depression and alcoholism that come from these emotions, it’s important for elderly people to keep busy. And regular church attendance is a great way to do this. Not to mention, it allows older adults to feel accepted into a community, which provides valuable self-esteem and personal self-worth.
Another healthful benefit of attending worship service is the promotion of discipline. A regular attendee can tap into self-discipline, and frequently, good discipline allows them to make thoughtful choices in other aspects of their life, including healthy eating, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and exercising regularly.
When it comes to exercise, you don’t need to sign up for a pricey gym membership or invest in a ton of expensive equipment. In fact, a walk around the block can provide a number of health benefits. But if you want to devote some serious time to getting in better shape, create a small home gym in your own home by purchasing a treadmill, an exercise bike, or a specialty machine. If that’s too much, consider a balance ball or resistance bands to get you started. Furthermore, seniors who have a Medicare Advantage plan may already have access to a program called SilverSneakers, which allows them to enjoy fitness facilities without having to pay extra.
Physical benefits aside, let’s consider some of the other benefits that come from regular worshipping. Many churches, temples, and mosques provide seniors with wonderful opportunities to give back in their communities. Whether by donating money or time, they can find organizations or families that need their help. Volunteering is also a great way to capitalize on the “happiness effect,” according to Harvard Health.
Attending church also allows participants to feel a greater purpose in life. When encountering issues of illness, grief, and despair, faith can provide believers a larger shoulder to lean on.
And don’t forget the importance of developing relationships with people who are good influences in life, this can occur with fellow church goers or church leaders. If they’re struggling with addiction, for example, turning to fellow worshippers who have chosen to abstain can help them in their recovery. Plus, churches frequently offer counseling and support groups.
Attending faith services regularly will improve both body and mind. Older adults who aren’t attending should set aside some time to search for a faith community that fits them best. This can mean visiting a few different services before settling in on the right one. A good worship service will help release their burdens, reduce their stress and prepare them for enjoying the wonderful week ahead.
Author: Jason Lewis (strongwell.org)