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Church Goers Live Longer Study Shows

Study: Go to church,
live 3.1 years longer
Regular religious attendance aids longevity
at cost lower than anti-cholesterol medicine

If you're planning on a church funeral when you die, a new study suggests you can delay it by up to 3.1 years if you attend church regularly as opposed to waiting for a priest or pastor to say final words over your casket.

Daniel Hall, a Pittsburgh medical doctor and Episcopal priest, has published the results of a "meta-analysis" – a study of previous studies – in the March-April issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine that "demonstrates a robust but small association" between weekly attendance at religious services and a longer life.

While Hall found going to church regularly accounted for only 2 to 3 extra "life-years," compared to 3 to 5 life-years for physical exercise and 2.5 to 3.5 life-years for statin-type agents used to treat high chloresterol, religious activity proved to be a cheaper way to "buy" the extra years than using prescription drugs.

Using "admittedly limited assumptions" for his "thought experiment," Hall calculated life expectancy tables using the methodology of the National Center for Health Statistics and analyzed his data to account for different "modalities" – church attendance, exercise and prescription drugs.

Using the annual cost of membership at the local gym ($500) as the cost for exercise, the average yearly household contribution to religious institutions ($1336) by the average household size (2.59) as the cost of attending church and the average yearly cost for statin-type therapy ($836) as the cost for prescription drug treatment, Hall determined how much each additional year of life would cost for each of the lifestyle choices.

The cost per life-year gained was between $2,000 and $6,000 for regular exercise, $3,000 and $10,000 for regular religious attendance, and between $4,000 and $14,000 for statin-type agents. The higher figure for religious attendance assumed the giving of the Old Testament 10 percent tithe which is much higher than the average for religious giving.

Church attendance, Hall concluded, is not a medical therapy but it is comparable to commonly recommended therapies in its effects and is more cost-effective than a regime of cholesterol-lowering drugs.

"There is something about being knit into the type of community that religious communities embody that has a way of mediating a positive health effect," Hall told LiveScience. Perhaps, it "can then decrease your level of stress in life or increase your ability to cope with stress."

"This analysis should not be interpreted to mean that health care payers should start covering the annual tithe of religious patients," Hall writes. "And it is not clear that the observed reduction in mortality would accrue due to religious attendance. From a theological perspective such instrumental use of religion is idolatrous. From a methodological perspective, it is not at all clear that 'instrumental faith' is sufficiently genuine to accrue the observed reduction in mortality."

"Being in a religious community helps you make meaning out of your life," Hall said.