The Secret Reason Why Religious People Live Longer

Even if you're an atheist, you can still benefit from a new study's findings.

There are a lot of things that extend your life. Not smoking, even if it's only one cigarette a day, is one of them. Getting a good amount of exercise is another obvious one. And increasing research is revealing that sleep is a crucial key to longevity. But a new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, has found a surprising link between religion and lifespan.

Ohio State University researchers analyzed the obituaries of over 1,000 Americans across the country and found that, taking into account the sex and marital status of those who died, those who had religious affiliations lived an average of four years longer than those who didn't.

"Religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life," said Laura Wallace, a doctoral student in psychology at The Ohio State University and the lead author of the study.

The researchers posited two theories as two why people of faith may experience a boost in longevity.

The first is that religious people have more of a tendency to volunteer and take part in social organizations, both of which research has proven to increase the years in your life. But that's not the whole story.

"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," Wallace said. "There's still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can't explain."

Their second working theory is that religion encourages people to eschew bad habits, such as drinking heavily or taking drugs, both of which lead to pre-mature death. Religion also encourages people to take part in wellness activities such as praying and meditating, which studies have shown help extend lives, especially in the elderly.

A theory not posited by the researchers is that some religions still (controversially) frown upon divorce, and recent studies have found that people who get divorced do tend to die younger. Another possibility is that many religions adhere to the belief that there is an afterlife, a concept that imbues the faithful with a sense of greater purpose in life and a decreased fear of death.

One way or another, the study is good news. If you're religious, you get another four years added to your lifespan. And if you're not, you can still reap some of the benefits by volunteering, avoiding substance abuse, and taking part in wellness activities such as meditation.

"The positive health effects of religion spill over to the non-religious in some specific situations," Wallace said. "The spillover effect only occurs in highly religious cities that aren't too concerned about everyone conforming to the same norms. In those areas, non-religious people tend to live as long as do religious people."

For more great longevity tips, check out why These Personality Traits Will Extend Your Life.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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