It’s perhaps one of the strangest findings in the whole of modern science - that going to church can actually improve your health. For the all the disbelievers out there, it might sound rather far-fetched. But the evidence is in, and it seems to suggest what some church-goers have known all along: that their Sunday morning habit is one of the best things that they can do for their health.

Experts say that their evidence suggests that those who attend church are a lot more likely to look after themselves than people who don’t. A 30-year study of more than 2,600 people by the Human Population Laboratory at Berkeley, California, found that those who attend church tend to smoke less, drink less and lead happier emotional lives. All of these things, the researchers pointed out, are associated with longer and happier lives.

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Cynics could point to the fact that going to church isn't really the driving factor here. They might say that the people who look after themselves, avoid drinking and smoking and have great family lives are also the people most likely to go to church. But one cannot ignore the possibility that causation runs the other way. After all, the science concerning the importance of social interactions is quite clear on this. People need the company of other people to feel happy and relaxed, and those who are lonely tend to suffer health consequences, like higher blood pressure, more stress hormones, and a shorter life.


The researchers then went on to say that much of the good health behaviour was associated with attendance. Churchgoers who sat in their church chairs on a weekly basis were less depressed, had lower levels of anxiety and had stronger immune systems than age-matched people who didn’t attend. The researchers suggested that the majority of these positive benefits were the result of having a supportive community of people. Public worship is an excellent way to build relationships with like-minded people, which in itself helps people to feel as if they are part of a group.

It’s not just churches that create these positive health effects, of course. They can also be generated by Buddhist monasteries, synagogues and mosques, according to the researchers. What seems to count here is not some sort of divine intervention, but the fact that people who regularly attend church are more likely to have a social support structure in place and believe in religious teachings which tell them to respect their bodies.

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Researchers, however, haven’t considered how going to a place of worship every week actually makes it less likely that people want to engage in destructive behaviours. The very fact that people are around people they like who share their views of the world is a great happiness booster. When people are happier, they are less likely to want to turn to drink, smoking or unhealthy foods to make themselves feel good. Instead, they will be more content and want to live in a way that is good for their body, helping them to live healthier and longer.

So the bottom line here seems to be that being part of a group linked by shared values is good for your health, probably indirectly, but maybe directly too.