Objective: Analyze effects on long-term survival of frequent religious attendance compared with four widely-accepted beneficial health behaviors.
Method: Calculate gender-specific associations with mortality over 29 years for religious attendance, cigarette smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and non-religious social involvement. Subjects were 5,894 participants in the Alameda County Study age 21-75. Analyses use proportional hazards modeling with time-dependent measures to adjust for subsequent changes in attendance and each health behavior over the follow-up period. All statistical models adjust for the same variables.
Results: For women, the protective effect of weekly religious attendance was of the same order of magnitude as the four other health behaviors. For men, the protective effect of weekly religious attendance was less than for any of the other health behaviors.
Conclusions: The protective effect of religious attendance for women is comparable to those observed for several commonly recommended health behaviors: for men the protective effect of religious attendance is more modest. This strong gender difference may be a key to understanding how religious attendance exerts its effects.