By Jason Lewis
This week, we’re delighted to introduce our first ever guest blogger here at Grottenberg the Elder. I hope you enjoy this thoughts! -Gary
Jason Lewis is a personal trainer and caregiver to his elderly mom. He enjoys sharing his fitness knowledge on his website (http://www.strongwell.org). He is passionate about helping seniors stay healthy and injury-free. He created StrongWell to share his tips on senior fitness. He became his mother’s caretaker after her surgery. After the recovery, he realized that he can use the knowledge to help others as well.
Many believers go to church on Christmas, Easter, and a smattering of other occasions but attend rarely throughout the year. This occasional church attendance only grows sparser as people get older and their health makes it challenging to get out of the house. However, attending church provides benefits beyond a stronger relationship with God. For seniors, showing up to weekly services promotes good health.
Here are four ways that church attendance impacts senior health.
1. Reduced Blood Pressure
Regular church attendance is associated with lower blood pressure, according to one study.1 Considering that high blood pressure contributes to heart attacks, strokes, vision loss, and kidney failure, among other ailments, this is no small perk. However, it’s not just because churches are adding health screenings to their ministry and promoting healthy behaviors.2 Rather, listening to God’s word and connecting with the community are powerful tools for reducing stress and lifting life’s burdens off your shoulders.
2. Stronger Immune Response
People who attend church services regularly have healthier immune systems than people who attend infrequently or not at all, according to research from Duke University.3 This is particularly important for seniors due to age-related immunity changes that leave elderly adults susceptible to illness and infection. While the reasons behind church’s immunity boost aren’t fully understood, the study’s author postulates that, “Perhaps religious participation enhances immune functioning by yet unknown mechanisms, such as through feelings of belonging, togetherness, and even perhaps the experience of worship and adoration.”
3. Improved Mental Health
It’s so easy to get bogged down with everyday worries. But the truth is, your grocery lists and messy floors don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it’s church’s ability to force our minds to be present—and the weekly reminder that it’s not about loving the world,4 it’s about loving God—that makes churchgoing seniors less likely to experience depression.5 As one recovery resource points out: “It can be difficult to force ourselves to focus on the here and now, especially if we’re going through a transition as life-changing as addiction recovery. But even taking a few minutes a day to be mindful of all we have in the present moment—and especially all we have to be grateful for—can help us feel more at peace with ourselves, our surroundings, and our circumstances.”6
4. Longer Lives
Together, all of these benefits add up for one big impact: Longer, healthier lives. As CNN reports, people who attend church more than once per week had a 33 percent lower mortality rate than non-churchgoers over the course of a 20-year study.7 While less frequent church attendance still brought benefits—weekly attendees had a 26 percent lower risk of death—frequent and consistent church attendance brought the greatest benefit to longevity. And with the other health benefits of church attendance, seniors are more likely to enjoy good health and quality of life in those extra years.
God’s word is powerful, there’s no doubt about it. Unfortunately, getting to church isn’t always easy. Between transportation challenges and reduced mobility, seniors may find it difficult to get out the door on Sunday morning. While church transportation can help seniors maintain weekly sermon attendance, older adults should also open their minds to other options for serving. After all, reaping the benefits of church attendance doesn’t need to be limited to sitting for sermons. There are other ways that seniors can be active members of a faith community, such as joining a Bible study group, getting involved in outreach, volunteering in church ministries, or offering up their talents in another type of service.
1 See https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/06/church-blood-pressure-religion_n_1175216.html
2 See https://news.heart.org/churches-are-increasingly-adding-health-and-fitness-to-ministry-outreach/
3 See https://corporate.dukehealth.org/news-listing/duke-study-attending-religious-service-may-improve-immune-status
4 See https://www.backtothebible.ca/articles/john-mean-not-love-world/
5 See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-elderly-depression-religion/religiosity-associated-with-less-depression-in-elderly-study-idUSKBN0GF1V520140815
7 See https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/16/health/religion-lifespan-health/