Of all the weekly newspaper sections I slog through for work, my favorite may be the Tuesday “Health” pages in The Washington Post. One interesting tidbit today is a brief write-up of yet another faith-based medical study. This one purports to find a connection between weekly worship-service attendance and increased life expectancy. The author of the study, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center physician who also happens to be an Episcopal priest, suggests that weekly worship may increase one’s life by 2 to 3 years. (As a point of comparison, cholesterol lowering drugs add 2.5. to 3.5. years).
This report comes on the heels of the recent high-profile prayer study, which found that having strangers pray for you doesn’t help, and may actually harm, your recovery from serious surgery. While on one level the studies’ findings seem contradictory, to me they appear to point in the same direction, at least secularly speaking. If you are devout enough in your faith to regularly haul your carcass to worship service every week, you most likely have a solid network of fellow worshippers to provide emotional support during life’s stressful times. (Isolated people tend to be less healthy than those with friends and family.) Moreover, you probably also enjoy some of the more nebulous psychological benefits of faith, such as the belief that even bad things happen for a purpose, that a higher power is looking after you, that life isn’t some cruel, random series of events totally beyond your control. Such emotional comfort helps to reduce stress levels, which in turn produce happier, healthier worshippers. By contrast, if in the wake of serious surgery you are told that a bunch of strangers have been assigned to pray for your speedy recovery, this seems like it could very well raise your stress level by increasing your expectations or making you feel somehow pressured to perform.
Non-spiritual message of both studies: God or no God, stress is a killer.