Can you live longer by going to church more? New study says maybe

The sun rises behind the steeple of Maranatha Baptist Church Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015, in Plains, Ga. The Baptist church where former President Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday School classes and he and wife Rosalynn are deacons has been at the heart of their life since they returned to Georgia in 1981. On Sunday morning, Carter will teach his first lesson since detailing the intravenous drug doses and radiation treatment planned to treat melanoma found in his brain after surgery to remove a tumor from his liver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Could going to church more help you live longer? A new study from Harvard researchers says, well, maybe.

It may be a small prayer service on a Monday night, but there’s plenty for parishioners at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church.

“It’s a chance for the people to just stop in this tiny prayerful chapel and spend some quiet time with our Lord,” Deacon Joseph Wrabel said.

Wrabel is familiar with research showing church is good for your health.

“I’ve heard the theory many, many times,” he said.

It’s not exactly a new concept.

“Certainly, there’s something to be said for the time to meditate, to spend some time in quiet prayer.”

A study by Harvard researchers published Monday in a journal produced by the American Medical Association finds the more church, the better, at least for some women.

The study’s authors followed more than 74,000 female nurses for 20 years, from 1992 to 2012, asking them to fill out questionnaires along the way.

More than 13,000 died in that time, about half from cancer or heart problems.

Those who went to church more than once a week were 33 percent less likely to be in the group that died.

“We’re dealing with people’s mindsets, their feelings, their fears, and what they hold onto to bring some type of hope and faith,” said Rev. Dr. Brenda Alton, supervisor of spiritual care services at PinnacleHealth’s Harrisburg Hospital.

She’s also familiar with this type of research and even this specific study.

“It gives them the assurance that they’re not alone,” she said, “that they’re not on this journey by themselves.”

The researchers found the women who went to church more often were more likely to quit smoking and were less prone to depression, thanks in part to the social structure their faith provided.

But some physicians warn against doctors recommending prayer for their patients for fear it could infringe on that person’s religious freedom.

Even Wrabel warned against putting too much faith in the numbers.

“God’s calling the shots,” he said. Still, he added, “Try it. It certainly cannot hurt.”

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