Attending religious services might make you feel holier, but does it make you feel healthier?
That's what a group of researchers from University College London in the United Kingdom recently tried to find out. In their study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, the researchers looked at a survey taken of 39,701 individuals ages 15 and over in 26 European countries. Those people reported how frequently they attended religious services (of any denomination and kind, besides social occasions like weddings or funerals) and assessed their own health; they also provided other details, such as their education level and degrees of social contact and isolation.
The results showed association between regular attendance (more than once a week) at religious services and good self-reported health across Europe. But there were some important qualifications. For one, this association was more true for men than for women, and it was also stronger for those with less education. Plus, one's amount of social contact mattered: Men who were the most socially isolated showed the strongest connection between attending services and positive health. These results were not as strong for women.
Based on their data, the researchers couldn't determine whether attending services directly caused people's health to improve, just that the two seemed linked. However, they speculate that attending religious services might improve health because it boosts social contact and decreases social isolation—factors that contribute to good health, according to other research. "Religious involvement may be a source of social capital and resilience," write the researchers, noting that the social contact services provide might offer special benefits to people at a high risk for stress, such as those from low socioeconomic backgrounds or of poor chronic health.