People who attend religious services regularly are less likely than others in this country to develop diabetes or high blood pressure, a new study suggests, adding a Canadian dimension to the growing but contentious body of research linking faith and good health.
The authors, from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., theorize that Christian and other religious gatherings help stave off disease by offering a stress-reducing social-support network, frowning on risky behaviour like smoking and drinking and encouraging good diet and exercise.
They suggest that doctors take advantage of the findings by urging religious patients to tap into the health-promoting traditions of their faith.
In interviews that were part of a related study, parishioners and clergy said they always felt that going to church was therapeutic, said Ananya Banerjee, the epidemiologist who headed the research.
“They [priests] felt people were in a meditative state, it was a place where they felt at peace,” she said. “It was a time they could actually reflect on their lives and absorb everything that was being said … about how to live life to the fullest according to God’s will.”
Based on data from the federal government’s Canadian Community Health Survey, the McMaster research is the first of its kind in Canada to link heart-related health and religious observance, the authors say.
The study used results from the 2007 edition of the survey, which included for the first time an optional query about religious attendance. Ms. Banerjee and colleagues looked at the 5,400 people surveyed in Saskatchewan, one of two jurisdictions where the question was actually asked.
They found that those who went to church or attended other religious services more than once a week were almost 20% less likely to suffer from hypertension and had 40% less chance of being diabetic. Fewer of the frequent churchgoers reported coronary-heart disease, as well, but the difference was deemed not statistically significant.
Ms. Banerjee said she met initial skepticism when she proposed the study as part of her work for a doctorate, and rejection from high-impact Canadian medical journals when she tried to publish the results. It ended up appearing in the U.S.-based Journal of Religion and Health.
The medical science world in the United States, however, has for years been delving heavily into the link between faith and health, with several medical schools offering courses on spirituality for doctors-in-training, and more than 3,000 studies on the issue published.
Critics dismiss much of that research, though, arguing partly that something other than religion likely explains the positive results.
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SOURCE: National Post