Sunday, November 21, 2004

Religion May Lengthen Life

Daily Lobo - News
Issue: 11/17/04
Religion may lengthen life
by Tara Zechini
Technician (North Carolina State University)

(U-WIRE) RALEIGH, N.C. - Religious people live longer and healthier lives than their non-religious counterparts, according to studies released by Duke University Medical Center.

While the studies concentrated on older adults, researcher Harold Koenig, professor of medicine at Duke University, said results pertain to college students.

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

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

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

Lisa Waller said 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," she said. "You know it's going to be wonderful - heaven is going to be great."

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

In the article "The Healing Power of Faith," Koenig stated 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, Koenig said.

"The laws of the church seem to have health benefits," he said. "It strongly advocates against things like smoking and drinking. These are practical rules."

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

"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 Christianity does not appear to be the only healing faith.

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

Koenig has been researching religion and health for about 20 years. In the early 1980s, he noticed patients were relying on religious beliefs to handle stress.