In fact, at least one study suggests attending church can even help extend a person’s lifespan. As part of the Nurses' Health Study, researchers examined data collected from nearly 75,000 female nurses in the U.S. and found those who went to church more than once a week had a 33 percent lower risk of dying during the study period compared with those who said they never went. Study subjects who attended services once a week or less than weekly had 26 percent and 13 percent lower risk of death, respectively.
Churchgoers had higher rates of social support and optimism, lower rates of depression, and were less likely to be smokers, but researchers factored out those differences when calculating the lower mortality rates. That left scientists to speculate that attending religious services might promote self-discipline and give people a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life, according to a story from CNN.
Church Offers a Support System
What’s more, the deaths of spouses, other family members, and friends, as well as the decreased activity and engagement levels that often come with aging can further contribute to seniors’ sense of segregation from the rest of the world. Due to life circumstances that may be unique to their age or health concerns, elderly people often confront a variety of emotions or mindsets that may be somewhat debilitating and hard to bear. These include a sense of isolation, loneliness, boredom, and grief, as well as others, according to DrugRehab.org.
Church Can Help Protect Against Bad Health Habits
Those feelings could contribute to unhealthy habits including adopting a poor diet or misusing alcohol or prescription drugs. Indeed, both malnutrition and substance abuse are serious health concerns for seniors.
According to information from the Mayo Clinic, several factors can contribute to poor nutrition for older adults. Some may be dealing with health conditions that reduce their appetites or make it more difficult to eat. Many older adults may have limited incomes or limited access to healthy food because getting to the grocery store is difficult for them. Others may lose interest in preparing or eating food if they are alone at meal times. But connections with a church community can make some meals more social, offer access to people who can help seniors shop, and make friends aware of seniors’ weight loss and other warning signs of poor eating habits.
But having a healthy social network can reduce the likelihood older adults will experience depression, which can also reduce their risk for misusing drugs or alcohol. Higher levels of social interaction can also help concerned friends identify signs of substance abuse among seniors and encourage them to seek help.
Staying connected with a caring religious community is good for people of any age, but it can be especially critical for older adults whose social circles are getting smaller as they leave the work world and loved ones move away or pass on. Indeed, maintaining a strong social support system can keep seniors happier and healthier -- and may even help them live longer lives.