Previous research has suggested that greater involvement in religion is associated with better physical and mental health. But attending services involves many practices, such as praying, singing, interacting with the congregation, listening to sermons, and the like. The present study's author, Dr. Neal Krause of the University of Michigan, discovered that having church-based social relationships provides the greatest benefit.
He compared survey responses from three groups of Americans over the age of 66: currently practicing Christians, Christians who no longer practice, and those who had never been affiliated with any faith. The data showed that giving emotional support to another congregation member caused the stress induced by the provider's own economic problems to decrease, which caused his or her risk of mortality to decrease.
Also noteworthy is that the benefits seemed to be one sided - those who received the support showed no significant changes in rates of mortality.
The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.
The Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences is a refereed publication of The Gerontological Society of America, the national organization of professionals in the field of aging.
The article abstract is available online at http://psychsoc.gerontologyjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/61/3/S140.