Can Religion Help You Live Longer?

Researchers found that people with religious affiliation tend to live about four years longer than those without. NATNN/Shutterstock

They say religion can do wonders for your soul, but new research suggests it may also seriously boost your longevity.

For a new study, researchers analyzed the obituaries of more than 1,000 people from around the United States and found that people with a religious affiliation lived nearly four years longer than those with no religious ties. That was even after considering the sex and marital status of the people who had died, which are two factors that have a strong impact on lifespan.

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

The researchers attributed some of that extra longevity to the fact that many religiously minded people volunteer and belong to social organizations. Previous studies have found that individuals who volunteer and belong to social groups tend to live longer.

But researchers said that only explained some of the longer lifetime.

"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."

The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Other reasons for long lifespans

family serving food in homeless shelter
Be selfless when you volunteer and it can add to your life. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

There are other factors that may add to the religious-longevity connection, the researchers said. For example, many religions don't support unhealthy activities such as drinking, drug use and sex outside of a committed relationship.

In addition, "many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation," said study co-author Baldwin Way, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

For the study, researchers looked at obituaries from about 1,100 obituaries from 42 major U.S. cities published online between 2010 and 2011. People were determined to have religious affiliation if their obituaries mentioned any sort of religious activities.

The study also suggested that the level of religiosity in a city and a city's overall personality could impact how much religious affiliation influences lifespan.

In very religious cities where conformity was critical, religious people had greater longevity than those without religion. But there was often an interesting spillover effect.

"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."