Monday, August 20, 2007

Evidence suggests that people who attend synagogue live longer

Last update - 02:13 21/08/2007
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent

Adults who attend synagogue regularly live longer than their peers who do not attend synagogue, according to a recently published study carried out by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The research, conducted by Professor Howard Litwin of the university's Israel Gerontological Data Center (IGDC), was published in The European Journal of Aging.

The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between social interaction and longevity.

Litwin heads the IGDC, which was established with support from the Central Bureau of Statistics with the objective of researching aging in Israel.

The study was based on a Bureau of Statistics survey conducted in 1997, for which 5,000 Israeli men and women aged 60 and above were interviewed about their way of life.

In 2004, the number of participants still living was monitored. In a focus group of 1,811, some 38 percent had passed away.

The researchers then examined these findings in relation to the participants' way of life.

According to Litwin, the death rate was highest among participants who were elderly and sick. The participants were also classified according to income, with two-thirds more lower-income participants passing away than higher income groups.

Among elderly people who suffered from depression, the death rate was 80 percent higher than among those who did not.

"These findings are not surprising," said Litwin, "but we did find two other unique variables that influence survival: the frequency of communication with friends and the frequency of synagogue attendance. Those who attended synagogue regularly clearly had the highest rate of survival," he said.

Data showed that the death rate was 75 percent higher among the group that did not attend synagogue than it was among the group that attended synagogue regularly.

Litwin said that there is no clear-cut explanation for the synagogue attendance effect, but outlined two main possibilities.

"One explanation is spiritual, that is, the individual faith factor," he said. "A series of studies that have been conducted in recent years, especially in the United States, argue that faith helps people deal with psychological pressure. People who believe and pray apparently survive longer," said Litwin.

"Another explanation is the connection between attending synagogue and belonging to a supportive community," he added.

Litwin said that in late old age decreased social activity is a common problem.

"A person who goes to synagogue has a function: He
is called to the Torah, and he has a network of social ties in the community."

Litwin also noted that since religious Jews do not drive on Shabbat, a person who goes to synagogue regularly must be able to walk, and hence is healthier.

For those who do not attend synagogue, friends can serve as an alternative.

"It's important to remember that according to the findings, social ties carry the same weight as attending synagogue," Litwin stressed. "This means that in order to live long, there is no need to be particularly righteous, but it is important to be sociable."

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