Study says religious people are healthier


Religious people live longer and healthier lives than their non-religious counterparts, according to several studies released by Duke University Medical Center recently.

While the studies concentrated on older adults, researcher Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate professor of medicine at Duke University, stated that the results pertain to college students as well.

“The findings apply to people who are under stress. Age doesn’t matter as much as stress level does,” Koenig said.

Koenig’s research has found that religious people spend less time in the hospital, are healthier, recover faster and avoid depression or recover from it quickly.

“Depression is often times evidence that the person is unable to cope with a life stress or loss. Religion helps people to make sense of traumatic events, death of a loved one or even a failure in school,” Koenig said. “Religion gives them hopeethey can pray to God to give them strength to get through the situation.”

Lisa Waller, a junior in biological sciences, believes that being a person of faith makes people more optimistic about life.

“When you’re living for God, you’re living life with purpose and you don’t really worry about when you’re going to die. You know it’s going to be wonderful; heaven is going to be great,”Waller said.

Research also shows that people of faith are less likely to use addictive substances.

In his article “The Healing Power of Faith,” Koenig stated that people who attend church weekly have about one-third the rate of alcohol abuse and are about one-third as likely to smoke as those who seldom participate in congregational worship.

Religious youth show significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, premature sexual involvement and criminal delinquency than their non-religious peers, according to Koenig.

“All of the laws of the church seem to have health benefits. It strongly advocates against things like smoking and drinking,” Koenig said. “These are practical rules.”

Michael Pendlebury, department head of North Carolina State University’s philosophy and religion program, said that he believes it is possible that people who attend religious events regularly would be less likely to abuse substances because they lead ordered lives.

“But I also think that anyone who lived structured and disciplined lives would be less likely to abuse substances and therefore be more healthy,” Pendlebury said. “I would be surprised if atheists who live well-organized lives led less healthy lives.”

Although the research focused predominately on people with Judeo-Christian beliefs, Koenig said that Christianity does not appear to be the only healing faith.

“The existence of God isn’t required for them to work. Social organizations like the church, synagogue, mosque or temple help guide people in their decisions that ultimately seem to be health enhancing,” Koenig said.

Koenig has been researching the relationship between religion and health for almost 20 years. When he was a family physician in training in the early 1980s he noticed that many patients were relying on their religious beliefs to handle the stress.

“They would talk about prayer and reading scripture,” Koenig said. “These patients were less depressed and more likely to care for themselves and religious faith was a major factor in helping many patients to cope.”

Koenig noticed that there was not much research in medical literature that looked at religion and health and he felt the need to research the relationship because it was clinically applicable.

“Its something doctors need to be aware of,” Koenig said.

While doctors cannot recommend, prescribe or endorse religion, Koenig said it is important for doctors to support the beliefs that make the patient healthy.

In the health magazine “Vibrant Life,” which advocates prevention rather than diagnosis and treatment, syndicated health columnist Peter Gott said, “spirituality is associated with health benefits, not because of divine intervention but because the various aspects of a religious life promote behavior and attitudes that are healthful.”

Bobby Riggs, a senior in statistics, is hesitant to accept the relationship between religion and health.

“Being a statistician, correlation studies between two unrelated concepts are always hard to believe,” Riggs said.

On the other hand, Sarah Sawyer, a junior in industrial engineering and a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, thinks the relationship is “definitely possible.”

Kelly Taylor, a sophomore in psychology, is doing her own research on the relationship between health and religion for psychology class and is using one of Koenig’s questionnaires.

“I do think the research is true. As a Christian, I think that you understand that faith helps you handle stressful times,” Taylor said.

One of the largest studies to date on the subject by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley produced similar results in a 28-year study of 5,000 people aged 21 to 65 years old.

The study found that people who attended religious services at least once a week had a 23 percent lower risk of dying over the study period than people who attended less frequently.