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May 18, 2006

Go To Church And Live Longer?

Topics: Health Issues

A study of more than five thousand African Americans found that individuals who were involved with or participated in religious activities had significantly lower blood pressure than those who were not, despite being more likely to be classified as hypertensive, having higher levels of body mass index (BMI), and lower levels of medication adherence:

The findings, presented today in New York City at the 21st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension (ASH 2006), are from the Jackson Heart Study, the largest exclusively African American study sample ever used to ascertain associations among religion, spirituality and blood pressure.

Female gender, lower socioeconomic status, increasing age, and lower levels of cortisol were associated with more religious activities. Higher levels of religious participation were related to higher levels of body mass index (BMI) and lower levels of medication adherence. Contrary to the original hypotheses, those with more religious activities and participation were more likely to be classified as hypertensive. However, those with more religious activities had significantly lower diastolic blood pressure in an uncontrolled model, and significantly lower systolic blood pressure in a controlled model.

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While interesting, this isn't exactly "new" news - a study by Duke University researchers way back in 1998 found that "older people" with an active faith have lower blood pressure:

The study of 4,000 North Carolinians ages 65 or over found that those who regularly participated in religious activities were 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure. Dr. Harold Koenig, the study co-author, said it provides more evidence that religious activity does have a physiological benefit. Other studies have shown that religious people are less depressed, have healthier immune systems, and deal better with addictions. "We're becoming more aware that religious beliefs or practices is not negative for a person's health," Koenig said. "In fact they could be very positive."
According to an article in WebMD, a growing body of research is beginning to define the complex connections between religious and spiritual beliefs and practices and an individual's physical and psychological health. No one says it's as simple as going to services or "finding religion" later in life. It may be that people who are more involved in religious activities or are personally more spiritual are doing something that makes them feel better emotionally and helps them live longer and more healthily:
Among the most recent findings in this area: People who attend religious services at least once a week are less likely to die in a given period of time than people who attend services less often. These results -- published in the August 1999 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences -- came out of a study examining almost 4,000 North Carolina residents aged 64 to 101.

People who attended religious services at least once a week were 46 percent less likely to die during the six-year study, says lead author Harold G. Koenig, M.D., of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. "When we controlled for such things as age, race, how sick they were and other health and social factors, there was still a 28 percent reduction in mortality," he says.

Koenig, a psychiatrist, says that the regular churchgoers showed a reduction in their mortality rate comparable to that of people who don't smoke over those who do.

As to a "why" or "how" of all this, maybe that doesn't matter so much as the benefit religion and spirituality provide us. For now, perhaps we should be a little more religious and spiritual, and enjoy the benefit of living longer without worrying so much as to the how or why it works. For now, maybe we can find it in ourselves to give a little credit to the creator of us all.

Posted by Richard at May 18, 2006 7:32 AM



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