New research finds that going to church can be good for your long-term health.
Harvard University scientists examined data from two large-scale studies of the habits of health care workers and found some interesting patterns. Notably, they say people who attend a religious service in person at least once a week are less likely to die a so-called “death of despair.” Deaths of despair include suicides and deaths from drug overdose or alcohol-related liver disease.
When it comes to avoiding these tragic, despair-fueled deaths, women benefited the most from regular religious attendance. They were 68% less likely than non-churchgoing women to die a death of despair. Men also saw an upside, but it was smaller. Among men, regular participants in religious services had a 33% lower risk.
The scientists said regularly attending a religious service can provide numerous benefits that act as a possible “antidote” to despair and a way to keep hope alive through tough times.
Indeed, many people draw encouragement and peace from the rituals such as prayers, songs, readings from sacred texts and other teachings that typically occurs at houses of worship. For some congregations, confession and acts of service are integral parts of the experience. Letting go of guilt, and putting aside one’s own problems to help other people, both can be powerful ways to improve mental and emotional health.
For those who are struggling to cope with the onslaught of bad news this year has brought, religious services might be a source for some timely hope and spiritual strength.