Studies Reveal Religious People Live Longer, but Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons?

All sorts of things have been linked to longevity: education, being social, and even religion. Last year’s study on 75,000 middle aged nurses found that those who went to church regularly had a 33% lower risk of dying than those who didn’t. And that study wasn’t the first of its kind to have similar results.

Of course, the hope of living longer isn’t exactly reason enough to be religious. There are pros and cons to spirituality, just like everything else.

The ‘why’

A person in a prayer position in sunlight.

There are benefits to being part of a religious community. | Ipopba/iStock/Getty Images

So, why do religious people live longer? There are probably several different answers, with the largest reason being social support. By attending religious services, people develop close communities, which by itself can positively affect health. But as it turns out, that’s only a small part of it.

Healthy behaviors

A person holds a lit cigarette.

Abstaining from tobacco is often a religious tradition. | iStock.com

Religious people, in general, tend to follow a rather strict moral code that doesn’t allow them to drink to excess, smoke, or take drugs, all of which can lead to a shorter life. Of course, you’ll find plenty of religious people that do indulge, but smoking rates especially tend to be lower among the faithful.

Optimism and the power of prayer

A group of people joined in prayer.

A positive and hopeful attitude might do you a lot of good. | Vadimguzhva/iStock/Getty Images

It has long been known that optimism is good for your health. Since religious people tend to look at the bright side of things, this could very well play into their longevity. Also, there are some benefits of prayer that are scientifically supported. Prayer improves self-control, makes us more forgiving, increases trust, and even offsets some of the health effects of stress. It seems that prayer does the body (and mind) good.

Negative effects of religion

A woman comforts her praying friend.

No religion is ever completely perfect. | Pixelheadphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Of course, there are some downsides to being religious. Many people believe that religion turns people against each other and fills them with fear. And while having a close community can be a wonderful feeling, it can also be isolating, and having an “us against the world” mentality is never good.

Guilt and bigotry and intolerance, oh my

A group of people praying in a church.

You should think about all the ways religion could affect your life. | Maximkabb/iStock/Getty Images

Unfortunately, religious people don’t always have the best reputations. While plenty of church-goers are wonderful, some are known for being intolerant and pushy. Some may also develop excessive feelings of guilt for wrongdoings and anxiety from worrying about friends and family who don’t share their beliefs. Religious disagreements may cause social isolation and decrease social support.

So what is the right choice?

A man reading a bible.

Do what is right for you. | Aradaphotography/Getty Images

Obviously, religion and spirituality can have either a positive or a negative effect on your life. You may think there’s no point in living longer if you’re just going to be anxious and intolerant, or you may choose to focus on the optimism, love, and compassion religion can bring. Weigh the pros and cons and go with what feels right to you.

Finding the right path

A woman sitting in a bench at a church.

You might want to consider being a student of different types of religions. | Kadirdemir/iStock/Getty Images

On that note, you may find that, in your experience, all religions are not created equal. Just because you were raised Catholic or browsed the Book or Mormon doesn’t mean you have to stick with one path. Ask trusted people questions, do your own research, take quizzes, and go with what feels right. If you’re going to live a long life, you may as well be happy.

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