JERUSALEM (RNS) Regularly attending religious services may significantly reduce the risk of death, according to a comprehensive study by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Findings of the study were published in Psychology and Health, the official journal of the European Health Psychology Society.
In the study, researchers evaluated the religious practices of 92,395 post-menopausal women from a wide variety of faiths participating in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a national long-term study on women’s health issues.
The study subjects who said they attend religious services at least once a week showed a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality compared with those not attending services at all.
The participants, aged 50 to 79, were asked how often they attend services, about their religious affiliation and whether they derive comfort from religious practices.
The YU/Einstein study adjusted for the social support many derive from participation in communal organizations and group activities linked to a church, a synagogue, temple or mosque.
“What was fascinating was that even after controlling for those sorts of factors that lead to well-being, there was a significant reduction in mortality,” said co-lead researcher Dr. Eliezer Schnall, clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva University. It would be “worthwhile,” Schnall said, to study men and younger people to determine their risk of mortality.
Schnall’s partner in the study, Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein, said the natural next step “is to figure out how the effect of religiosity is translated into biological mechanisms that affect rates of survival.
However, we do not infer causation even from a prospective study, as that can only be done through a clinical trial,” she said.
By Michele Chabin
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