Video: Skipping church can kill you

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updated 8/26/2005 2:37:47 PM ET 2005-08-26T18:37:47
STORY

It's back to the Bible for one woman.  After leaving the Catholic Church as a teenager, Dr. Lynda Powell may go back for good because of recent research linking the regular practice of religion to healthier living.

“I want to live longer and I want to live a long and happy life,” she says.

A once-skeptical epidemiologist, Powell spent two years researching links between religion and health.  Now, she says, science proves it: worshiping can do wonders for your health.

The National Institutes of Health appointed a team of doctors, including Powell, to analyze nearly 250 secular-based studies connecting religion and health.  Researchers found people who attend religious services weekly, if not more, have a lower rate of mortality by nearly 25 percent. That is, they live longer.

But is God the reason worshipers may be living longer? Powell says it could be simpler than that.

“People who are stressed tend to struggle. Struggle triggers stress hormones and that, in effect, shortens their lives,” reports Powell.  “People who go to church or religious services regularly are more effective at coping with stress.”

More effective, she says, perhaps because they take what they learn — prayer or meditation — and use it in their everyday lives.  This appears to stave off stress hormones and promote more beneficial ones.

But not everyone agrees.

According to Dr. Richard Sloan of Columbia University Medical Center, “The evidence is weak and inconclusive at best. Most of the studies are terrible. “  He continues, “Even if there were solid evidence that religious attendance is associated with reduced mortality, we have no idea whether physicians recommending that to their patients will lead to the effect.”

But whether it's hormones or a higher power, for Dr. Powell the healthiest prescription is prayer.

Researchers also discovered consistent evidence that regular service attendance also results in lower rates of depression and protects against cardiovascular disease.

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