At least once a week, 60 percent of people age 65 and older attend a religious service in the United States. Active church attendance helps people maintain a connection with their faith while also engaging with people in their community. For seniors, this engagement is important, and attending church can provide other benefits as well.
Religious congregations become social circles that provide support and reduce stress in people’s lives. Social isolation and limited social ties greatly increase an individual’s risk of mortality. The four most important social ties are family, friends, community groups, and membership in a church or temple. Churches don’t just bring seniors together with other seniors; churches help form relationships between people across all age groups and socioeconomic statuses as they relate in their shared faith.
Social support groups within a church are valuable because they nurture, care for, and support their members, especially those in need, such as the elderly. Members may assist seniors with household tasks if the senior is unable to do it, or they may drive the senior to the store or an appointment. Emotional support is also present. A senior can confide in another church member when he or she needs to do so.
Spiritual beliefs can help the elderly cope with their own disease and face their own passing. Many people cite religion as a coping mechanism that helped them through cancer, surgeries, and other diseases and illnesses. Research has shown those who are spiritual have less fear and apprehension surrounding their passing. In fact, when people are faced with a disease, disability, illness, or their passing, many seek spiritual comforting.
Life can be hectic and stressful, but many people set aside a special time to meditate, pray, or attend a church service. Setting aside this religious time for rest and respite from work and the demands of daily life helps to reduce stress, depression and even addiction. “Transcendent spiritual and religious experiences have a positive, healing, restorative effect, especially if they are ‘built in,’ so to speak, to one’s daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles of living,” says UCLA.
As UCLA notes, a study found that those who say religion is important in their lives and attend religious services frequently had lower rates of cigarette smoking and alcohol use. Since drinking and smoking can increase the likelihood of developing certain diseases, abstaining from them can help an individual stay healthier. Higher frequency of religious service attendance is also correlated with higher rates of healthy eating habits, further aiding in an individual staying healthy.
A study found that greater religious commitment was associated with greater moderate physical activity in both men and women. Adults who attended religious services were found to become more physically active. This increase could be related to participation in church-related activities, some of which could include physical activity.
For example, a senior could participate in a church event that plants flowers around the church. Seniors could also be involved in church-based recreation and sports, such as basketball or softball teams. Other volunteer activities include cooking and delivering meals for those in need, repairing another’s member home, and going door to door to speak to neighbors about their religion.
Church attendance provides seniors with many advantages. Seniors have an opportunity to grow their social circle and have a solid support system. Through this social network and involvement within their church community, they have a sense of purpose and to get physical activity. Church attendance provides psychological and physical health benefits for seniors. All of these advantages combine to help seniors lead a more fulfilling, happier, healthier, and longer life.