Researchers have found that American believers live an average of four years longer than non-believers. Scientists have identified several reasons that may explain this fact.
Psychologists at Ohio State University studied obituaries of 1,500 Americans and concluded that religious people lived on average four years longer. Among the possible reasons, scientists cite the social involvement of believers, their rejection of alcohol and drugs, as well as the ability of prayer to reduce the impact of stress. The research is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Scientists analyzed two datasets containing obituaries. The first included announcements of the deaths of 505 residents of Des Moines, Iowa's largest city, published in the local newspaper Des Moines Register. The study used texts that indicated the age of the deceased and information about whether he was religious - for example, whether he participated in church rituals. The researchers took into account the sex and marital status of the deceased: these factors are known to affect longevity. Religious people lived on average 6, 48 years longer than non-believers.
Most Iowa residents practice some kind of religion. According to a 2001 poll, only 13% of the state's residents called themselves atheists, another 5% were undecided, and all the rest turned out to be believers. To find out if the relationship between faith and longevity persists in other regions, the researchers analyzed another dataset, which included 1,096 obituaries published in newspapers in 42 major cities across the country and also containing information on the age and religiosity of the deceased. Taking into account the marital status and gender of people, it turned out that religious Americans lived on average 3.82 years longer than non-believers.
Life expectancy due to religiosity (A - Des Moines, B - USA in general) / © Social Psychological and Personality Science
Earlier research has shown that religiosity can lengthen longevity through social engagement: believers often volunteer and perform many activities together (for example, participating in religious rituals). However, a comparison of the two datasets showed that these forms of communication only partially explain this relationship. Psychologists have suggested that other reasons also play a role: religious norms that recommend avoiding alcohol and drugs, and the beneficial effects of prayer and other meditative religious practices. Earlier work has shown that prayer can help manage stress.
According to scientists, these results are only preliminary, on their basis it cannot be concluded that it is religiosity that causes a longer life. Studies with a large number of participants and taking into account many factors affecting life expectancy will help to find out whether this is so.
Previously, scientists found that during prayer, the same areas of the brain are activated as during sex or listening to music.