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Seniors, Going to Church Can Actually Make You Healthier, Live Longer and Feel Better
Going to church provides more than a purely religious experience. Numerous studies and reports indicate that for seniors, regular church attendance actually improves physical and mental health. It can sharpen focus, provide a support system and combat depression that is common with old age. In many ways, regular church attendance can help seniors feel better and live longer.
How is Church Healthy?
Research shows that those who go to church receive many benefits. People who attend church regularly become members of a community. Church provides opportunities to socialize, and it offers help for members who are ill, depressed, financially struggling or feeling physically weak. Those who attend services tend to feel less lonely, and get the emotional support they need. Being a member of the group can also help older adults feel a sense of purpose. All of this helps treat depression, which can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.
Depression affects a large number of aging and elderly people, which can lead to isolation, substance abuse and poor health. Going to regular services, however, can combat these symptoms and prevent depression in older people. Church offers structure; it gives older people something to do and something to look forward to on a regular basis.
Multiple studies regarding religious service attendance show that those who go to church regularly are physically healthier, but that’s not all. Evidence suggests that regular attendance can actually help people live longer. One 10-year study looked at data on almost 75,000 women, and found that regular churchgoers had lower risk of death than those who did not attend services, either regularly or semi-regularly.
Opportunities for Physical Activity
Many churches offer senior activities that are specific to getting regular exercise, whether it’s through indoor walking groups, church-hosted classes for aerobics or yoga or other types of recreation. And in addition to the social aspect, having the opportunity to enjoy fitness through community can lead to more accountability for seniors who need to be more active.
According to the National Institutes of Health, going to regular religious services leads to better mental health among older people. Findings from the Religion, Aging, and Health Survey, conducted in 2001 and 2004, show that both men and women who attend these services have better mental health than those who do not. The survey focused specifically on Americans aged 66 to 95, and the data shows much higher levels of mental health and stability among regular attendees, compared to those who did not go to services regularly or at all.
Mindfulness for Seniors
Yoga, meditation and similar exercises are commonly thought of as being only for the young, but more churches, nursing homes and elder care services are turning to mindfulness to help seniors become physically and mentally healthier. Seniors can practice the mental focus, deep breathing and light stretching association with mindfulness to reap the benefits. Light stretching exercises help keep muscles flexible and strong, and deep breathing can keep the entire respiratory system healthier and breathing muscles stronger. Meditation, which teaches focus, helps seniors take their minds away from aches and pains, worries and sad thoughts.
Be Mindful of Going to Church
Mindfulness teaches people to be present, which can improve mental clarity and keeps them rooted in the here and now. Seniors tend to think about the past, and some want to live in the past. But this isn’t possible. Mindfulness reminds aging people to pay attention to the right now, and church keeps them rooted in the moment and in the world around them, all of which can lead to a healthier, happier and fuller life.
Thank you to Jason Lewis, strongwell.org, for this article.