Going To Shul Is Good For You–An Interview With Dr. Eliezer Schnall

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Dr. Eliezer Schnall is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University in New York, and a recent study of his has people talking because it found that weekly attendance of religious services reduces risk of death by 20%. Researchers evaluated the religious practices of more than 90,000 post-menopausal women, looking at prospective association of religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion. The results are hard to argue with. If you go to religious services once a week, you’re likely to live significantly longer. For more on the study, check out articles at Ynet, JTA and the New York Times.
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Dr Schnall agreed to answer a few quick questions for us at Mixed Multitudes, so here’s the lowdown from the doctor himself.

MM: The study looked at women who went to religious services once a week or more.  Were women who went to services more than once a week healthier than those who went once a week?

ES: As a general rule, no. We did not find added benefit for those who attended more than once per week.

Going to services is correlated with a longer life.  Is it correlated  with a lower than normal level of any particular disease or ailment (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.)?
It may be best not to use the word “correlation,” as this was not merely a correlational study. Rather this was prospective study, which is much more helpful in these kinds of cases. We did look at cardio, but did not find this benefit. The benefit was found, though, for all cause mortality (meaning death of any type).

Other than attendance at services, was there anything else that seemed  to link the healthier women in these studies?
It seems that there may be psychological factors (like social support) and health behavior benefits (maybe less likely to smoke or drink alcohol in excess) that women who attend religious services are sharing.

What’s the next step from here? How will you go about refining these results or creating a new study along these lines?
Future work might focus on younger or male samples, for example. We might also take a closer look at the different groups in this study and find if other potential confounding factors are relevant.

What was your reaction when you realized that your results pointed to longer lives for religious women?
I was not surprised, as other studies have suggested that this might be the case. Our study may be unique in many ways, (for examples its very large sample size). But there have been other studies of religion and health that have found results that suggested along similar lines.

If you’re interested in going to shul and maybe getting a few more years of life in the bargain, head over to our communities page to find a synagogue or Jewish community near you.

Posted on November 25, 2008

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