Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Two tylenol and a midnight mass

The key to a longer life may rest in church. No this message isn't brought to you by the Church of Latter Day Saints. It isn't promotional literature from the beleaguered Catholic Church. A new University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study finds people who attend religious services weekly live longer.

Specifically, the research looked at how many years are added to life expectancy based on:

Regular physical exercise: 3.0-to-5.1 years
Proven therapeutic regimens: 2.1-to-3.7 years
Regular religious attendance: 1.8-to-3.1 years

The study, which is actually a review of existing research from the three categories, does not reveal what the link between faith and health might be. The study also cautions that religious attendance is not a mode of medical therapy. Study leader Daniel Hall, a resident in general surgery and Episcopal priest did say:

"The significance of this finding may prove to be controversial," he said. "But at the very least, it shows that further research into the associations between religion and health might have implications for medical practice."

Hall goes on to speculate that the social aspect of religion could play a role in the results:

"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. Perhaps, he said, being involved in a religion "can then decrease your level of stress in life or increase your ability to cope with stress."

One has to wonder if the study controlled for race. It would appear not given the fact that African Americans are among the most spiritual people in North America and yet the average life expectancy is significantly less than most other races.

The findings are detailed in the March-April issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine and actually include a cost-effective evaluation of the three. Hall looked at the cost of these three approaches, examining typical gym membership fees, therapy costs from health insurance companies and census data on average household contributions to religious institutions. The estimated cost of each year of additional life apparently gained by each method:

Regular physical exercise: $4,000
Proven therapeutic regimens: $10,000
Regular religious attendance: $7,000

Hall said doctors and researchers might want to think of religiousness as a demographic factor. "For example," he writes in the journal, "the incidence of gastric cancer is higher among Japanese men, and knowledge of this fact might guide a physician to initiate early and frequent screening for gastric cancer among male Japanese patients." Hall's last statement raises some red flags:

Likewise, the thinking goes, knowing a person's religious practices might prove useful in evaluating their condition and suggesting potential treatments.

This goes against this recent study.

Or, it could be boiled down to optimism.

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