People who go to church regularly live significantly longer than those who don't practice a faith. Results of a series of studies, conducted by the American National Institute of Healthcare Research to be published this week, indicate that people who practice their religion consistently, whether at a church, temple or synagogue, live up to seven years longer than those who don't. Previous studies have shown that religious people are significantly less likely to suffer from cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and mental illness. This is the first large study to indicate the effect of religious behaviour on longevity, said the report's main author Dr Michael McCullough. The analysis, based on 42 studies of 126,000 people, showed that people who profess to have a faith but don't practice live a little longer than those with no faith. People who attend church occasionally are likely to have slightly better health. But those deeply involved in their religious community, attending church more than once a week or participating in religious group activities lived the longest. Dr McCullough said he thought there were a number of reasons for this outcome. Many religions had rules about excessive alcohol consumption, overeating, drug abuse and smoking, and faiths teach a respect for the body, he said. However, as many turn to religion after stressful personal experiences, bereavement or illness, this wasn't the whole answer. The social support and friendship found in a religious group was also a significant positive health factor, Dr McCullough said, as depression and loneliness are proven factors in heart disease. Having a faith in God, trusting that there is a meaning in life when things don't work out, is also helpful in coping with psychological stress, he said. Dr Raj Persaud, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudesley hospital in London agreed with this explanation, writing in the Sunday Times this week: "Religion appears to bestow on believers a contentment and resilience in the face of misfortune that is due to the hope provided by faith, with which modern medicine and psychotherapy can still, even after thousands of years, not compete. Increasingly close links are being uncovered between mental well-being and physical health - if you feel good about yourself you are more likely to take care of your body. So it would appear that this is probably the true secret of the power of religion to extend life." Body and soul workout Christians of all denominations are meeting in East London on Sunday nights for Gospel Aerobics. Fitness instructor Shirley Grey, who works in Hackney and Shoreditch begins each class with a prayer and puts people through their paces to rousing Gospel tunes such as 'My Soul Reaches Out To The Lord'. She said: "I apply my faith to all aspects of my life. Combining prayers with exercise I am sure leaves people feeling refreshed spiritually as well as physically." For more details of Shirley's classes call: 07947 579 084, or 020 8808 7171
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