“Several years ago I joined a church near my house. I've never been much of a churchgoer, but I thought it would be a good idea. I made one new friend there, and a woman I work with is also a member. After my surgery, I was out of circulation for a few weeks. I guess my friend told the minister about my heart attack, and he called a few times to check on me. I appreciated that.
“But I'll never forget that first Sunday when I went back to church. I didn't think anyone there even knew who I was. But five different people came up to say they were glad to see me. Then, right as he was about to start the sermon, the preacher welcomed me back and said they had all been praying for me. Everybody in that church stood up and applauded; they gave me a standing ovation. I'll never forget that for the rest of my life.”
Vera's experience is personal evidence that belonging to a faith community can provide social as well as spiritual support, which is good for cardiovascular health. And there's scientific evidence as well: research shows that people who regularly attend religious services tend to live longer than those who don't. One study of the general population found that people who did not attend services had nearly a 90 percent higher risk of dying during a nine-year period than those who attended services one or more times a week. In fact, those who never attend services live an average of seventy-five years, while those who attend services at least once a week live to an average age of eighty-three. The data are convincing: eight out of ten studies show that patients with a decided religious commitment are more likely to survive cancer and heart disease and enjoy a higher quality of life and lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and substance abuse. We cannot definitively say why this is so.