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There may be more to praying with your fellow congregants than meets the eye. New research has found that active religious participation can influence your mental health and well-being.
For decades scientists have investigated the link between religion and health. Now a new large study of more than 6,000 adults age 50 and older and living in Ireland has found that individuals who regularly attend religious services have fewer depressive symptoms than those who consider religion important but who don't worship frequently.
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The results were based on self-reported interviews about depression and religious attendance, with data collected in four waves from 2009 to 2016 for The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin.
One possible explanation for the later-in-life boost that worship seems to bring, says study lead author Joanna Orr, a doctoral candidate in the School of Medicine at Trinity, is that worshipping with others and the “increased social and emotional support from one's religious social networks” can combat the isolation of living alone.
Orr's study, published in Research on Aging in July, found that social connectiveness was one of the most important predictors of mental health and well-being in those she studied. Congregants who valued their religion but did not regularly attend services had poorer mental health.
There are also some possible nonsocial, psychological benefits of regularly attending worship services, including an increased ability to cope with stress, Orr notes.
Harold G. Koenig, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Duke Center for Aging and Human Development at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, agrees. As he puts it, “There are not a lot of things that do what religion does,” adding that research on religious involvement shows links to mental as well as physical health, including “cardiovascular and immune function.”