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People with religious faith live longer than atheists: study

Do you have faith? An analysis of more than 1,000 obituaries from across the U.S. suggests that churchgoers live four years longer than atheists. (palidachan/Getty Images)

Researchers have found ties between longevity and religious faith, the Daily Mail reported.

An analysis of more than 1,000 obituaries from across the U.S. suggests that churchgoers live four years longer than atheists.

What is the reason?

Part of the reason is that religious people tend to participate in more social activities, which is often linked to living longer, Ohio State University psychology researchers said.

But it goes beyond socializing.

"There's still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can't explain," study lead author Laura Wallace, a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State University, told the Daily Mail.

Dr. Baldwin Way, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State who co-authored the study, agreed.

What else plays a role?

Another factor is whether a person’s community is religious.

An initial study involved 505 obituaries published in the Des Moines Register in Iowa in January and February 2012. It found that “religious people lived 9.45 years longer than their atheist peers — but that shrunk to 6.48 years when they took gender and marital status into account,” according to the report.

A second study examined 1,096 obituaries from 42 major cities that were published between August 2010 and August 2011.

In the second study, “people whose obits mentioned a religious affiliation lived an average of 5.64 years longer than those whose obits did not.” The figure shrunk to 3.82 years after gender and marital status were factored in.

Researchers used data from both studies to determine if volunteering and participating in social groups led to longer lives, the report states.

"We found that volunteerism and involvement in social organizations only accounted for a little less than one year of the longevity boost that religious affiliation provided,” Wallace said.

Other reasons could be that religious beliefs that limit unhealthy choices such as drug and alcohol use or sex with many partners, he added. Religion also promotes stress-relieving practices such as gratitude or prayer, which could increase longevity, the report noted.

Findings from the study were published Wednesday by the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Wallace told the Daily Mail it provides additional support to the growing number of other studies that have shown religion has a positive effect on health.

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