Going to church can be a great way for the elderly to get out, socialize, and stay active in their community, but it turns out that attending church can benefit seniors in even more significant ways. A substantial body of research shows that church may improve the health of aging adults, from physical to mental wellbeing. Following are a few health perks that seniors can enjoy when they stay active in a church community.
Church Helps Seniors Stay Physically Healthy
Attending church makes seniors more likely to stay on top of preventive health care, from flu shots to cancer screenings, according to one study. Seniors who struggle to afford regular visits to their primary care doctor can find a valuable resource in church-sponsored health fairs that perform cholesterol screenings, flu shots, and other services. Church communities also tend to promote healthy lifestyles that include regular check-ups and cancer screenings.
When a senior spends time with the same group of people every week, they have a support network that’s able to notice changes in health and behavior that could easily be overlooked in a more socially isolated person. For this reason, church attendance promotes early detection of illness in older adults.
Seniors who are active in church tend to better comply with treatment regimens prescribed by their doctors after an illness or injury. Not only are they more likely to have a social network checking up on their health, but seniors who regularly attend church will also be more accustomed to the regimented schedule that most treatment plans require.
All of the above benefits of church amount to a major perk of attending those weekly sermons: Going to church helps you live longer. According to a study, weekly church attendees are up to 33 percent less likely to die prematurely than those who never attend.
Church Helps Seniors Stay Mentally Healthy
Social isolation poses a big problem for senior citizens. As children move away, friends pass on, and mobility wanes, it’s easy for elderly people to find themselves spending most of their time alone at home. Unfortunately, isolation and loneliness are linked to higher rates of depression, hastened cognitive decline, poorer recovery from injury and illness, and even earlier death. Church helps keep seniors socially active well into their later years as they find opportunities to mingle with peers and younger congregation members alike.
A study published in the Journal of Religion and Health showed that older people who attend church more than once a week are 56 percent more likely to have an optimistic outlook on life compared to non-churchgoers. Whether this is caused by the positive worldview espoused by many religions, healthier lifestyles, strong social connections, or something else isn’t clear, but
the effects are compelling: Thanks to these mood-boosting effects, churchgoers are also 22 percent less likely to experience depression compared to non-attendees.
Better Cognitive Health
Attending church helps keep senior minds active in a number of ways. Hymns let the elderly practice memory recall, discovering new doctrine keeps them learning, and socializing with fellow congregation members provides ever-changing situations to keep the brain on its toes. All of these activities come together to create an environment that helps seniors stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive disorders
Improved Coping Abilities
Old age can be an emotionally challenging time. Many seniors live to see friends and family pass away, experience illness and injury, and face stress-boosting isolation. Going to church regularly can help seniors cope during stressful times by encouraging them to focus on mindfulness and God’s will. It also gives older adults access to social activities that can take their minds off of stress and grief and offers a network of people to lean on in times of need.
You know that church can bring joy and purpose to your life, but you probably don’t realize just how deep the benefits of staying involved in church can run — especially in your later years. If you or a loved one are concerned about staying healthy in late life, consider finding new ways to get active in a congregation to enjoy all the perks of the church’s teachings and vibrant, compassionate community.
Image by Daniel Tseng