A number of studies have shown that people who go to church tend to live significantly longer than those who don’t.    And a leading professor has said that it isn’t simply because of the social support that churches give, but because worshippers are flexing spiritual muscles.

A study in two American States surveyed 5,449 people with 64 per cent being regular worshippers.  It was led by Professor Marino Bruce, a social and behavioural scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and  Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

The study reported that men and women aged 40 to 65 years old, who attend church or other places of worship reduce their risk for mortality by 55 per cent.  The effects remained after education, poverty, health insurance and social support status were all taken into account.

Professor Bruce said. “We found that they go to church for factors beyond social support. That’s where we begin to think about this idea… of compassionate thinking, that we’re… trying to improve the lives of others as well as being connected to a body larger than ourselves.’ [i]

He added that, ‘being in a place where individuals could flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health.’

‘Compassionate thinking’ is an effective practice in cognitive behavioural therapy. Studies have shown that it helps individuals banish unhelpful, negative thinking, and that repeated compassionate thinking helped establish a healthier view of themselves and their lives.[ii]

It’s interesting how secular research often seems to stumble across a biblical truth that’s been there all the time.  ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,’ says Ephesians 5:32.

[i] https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/814628/church-live-longer-health-benefits-religion-christianity-university-study

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26362245

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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