Atheists may want to take note of new research that claims going to church can cut people’s chances of getting cancer and increase life expectancy.
Researchers claim that attending religious ceremonies can slash your risk of dying early by a third – particularly for women.
The study found that women who attended religious services more than once a week had a 21% lower risk of dying from cancer than women who never attended church.
However, researchers have admitted they cannot pinpoint the reasons behind the apparent ground-breaking findings, but expect it is to do with optimism and a sense of community combating the effects of stress and depression.
And as the research only looked at Protestant and Catholic communities, made up of mainly white female nurses, they accept that it is narrow in scope.
Dr Tyler VanderWeele, a professor of epidemiology of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, examined attendance at religious services and subsequent death in women.
This was assessed in questionnaires from 1992 to 2012 and data analysis was conducted from the 1996 questionnaire to 2012 for a 16-year follow-up.
They used data from the Nurses’ Health Study in the analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine
Prof VanderWeele said: “Our results suggest that there may be something important about religious service attendance beyond solitary spirituality.
“Part of the benefit seems to be that attending religious services increases social support, discourages smoking, decreases depression, and helps people develop a more optimistic or hopeful outlook on life.”
Women who attended religious services more than once per week had a 33% lower risk of death during the 16 years of follow-up compared with women who never attended religious services.
Women who attended services weekly had a 26% lower risk and those who attended services less than weekly had a 13% lower risk, according to the results
The study indicates women who attended religious services more than once a week had a 27% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 21% lower risk of death from cancer compared with women who never attended.
Among 74,534 women at the 1996 study baseline with reported religious service attendance, 14,158 attended more than once a week, 30,401 attended once per week, 12,103 attended less than once per week and 17,872 never attended.
Most of the study participants were Catholic or Protestant. Women who frequently attended religious services tended to have fewer depressive symptoms, were less likely to be current smothers and more likely to be married.
Among the 74,534 women, there were 13,537 deaths, including 2,721 from cardiovascular disease and 4,479 from cancer.
However, the authors noted limits in generalising the results because the study mainly consisted of white Christians and the participants were nurses with similar socioeconomic status and who were health conscious.
This observational study also cannot imply causality and the authors note that a randomised clinical trial of attendance at religious services is neither ethical nor feasible.