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Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

Religious people live roughly four years longer than people who are not members of a religious community. American psychologists from Ohio State University come to this conclusion in a study that will shortly appear in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The researchers analyzed several thousand obituaries that appeared in American newspapers between 2010 and 2012.

Study 1
In their publication, the researchers describe the results of two studies. The first one involved 505 obituaries that have been published in the Des Moines Register, a newspaper that appears in the American city of Des Moines. If the individual described in the reports was a member of a religious community, the person in question would have lived on average 9.45 longer than the average person in an obituary that didn't mention religious affinities.

Gender and marriage also affect how long you can live. When the psychologists brushed away the effect of these two factors, then religious persons still lived 6.48 years longer than non-religious individuals.

Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

Study 2
In a larger study, the researchers analyzed 1,096 obituary reports from 42 different cities. This analysis showed that religious people had lived 5.6 longer than non-religious individuals.

After the researchers brushed away the effects of sex and marriage, religious people would still live 3.8 years longer than people who had not been part of a religious community.

Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

Other factors

The researchers' data showed that volunteer work and social activities also had a life-prolonging effect.

Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

Because religious people volunteered more often, and were socially more active, these two factors partly explained the life-prolonging effect of religion.

Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

"The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives", says co-author Baldwin Way in a press release. [ June 13, 2018]

Obituaries reveal the secret of a long life: religion

"Religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life", adds first author Laura Wallace.

"We found that volunteerism and involvement in social organizations only accounted for a little less than one year of the longevity boost that religious affiliation provided. There's still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can't explain."

The researchers can only speculate about what those other benefits would be. "Many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation", says Way.

Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2018 DOI: 10.1177/1948550618779820.

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The Psychology of Longevity

Positive emotions extend life expectancy by ten years
The more positive your attitude to life is - the more optimistic, upbeat, content and happy you are - the longer you are likely to live.

A life with a purpose lasts longer
Winning a competition. Conserving an area of nature. Bringing up your children. It doesn't matter what your purpose in life is, as long as you have one.

Feeling of being in control lengthens life
Are we to some extent in charge of what our life looks like? Or is life determined for us, do we have no control over our own destiny?