Why church ladies live longer

by Ruth Griffiths

A few years ago, researchers found that middle-aged people who attended church regularly, lived longer. A more recent study in Utah may have confirmed that theory.

Dr. Julianne Hold-Lunstad and her colleagues at Brigham Young University posed the question: What reduces our chances of dying the most? They studied tens of thousands of middle-aged people. They discovered that two features of our social life are better predictors of longevity than lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise.

From least to strongest, here are the factors their research showed that promote long life:
• Clean air
• Hypertension medication
• Lean versus overweight
• Exercise
• Cardiac rehabilitation
• Flu vaccine
• Quit drinking
• Quit smoking
• Close relationships
• Social integration

Close relationships are those people who would take you to the hospital if you are ill, give you a loan or sit with you during the dark night of the soul. This handful of people, if you have them, are a strong predictor of how long you will live. You might have those close relationships within your biological family. Or you might have grown those relationships within your social network.

Social integration is how much you interact with people as you move through your day. Do you talk to the man walking his dog? Do you chat with the clerk at the supermarket? They discovered that these interactions don’t necessarily have to be agreeable… it’s the interaction that benefits us.

One of the things that amazed me when I started attending my church in 1981 was the advanced age of the congregation. I was encouraged by the lively conversation and the vitality of people well into their 90s.

Now this study by Dr. Hold-Lunstad confirms my belief that by interacting regularly with my church family, I am adding years to my life. Her research also suggests that the coffee time after my fitness class may be just as important, or more important than time spent sweating in the gym. Of course her study isn’t saying that clean air and blood pressure medication aren’t important, it’s just that living a happy, integrated life seems to be a better predictor of longevity..