Background: Pulmonary function is an important indicator of respiratory and overall health, yet little is known about the psychosocial factors that predict pulmonary function itself. At the same time, religious activity is emerging as a potential health promoting factor, especially among the elderly. Whether there is a connection between religious activity and pulmonary function is unknown.
Purpose: In this study, we sought to examine the association between religious attendance and rate of decline in pulmonary function.
Methods: The sample consisted of 1,174 healthy elderly persons enrolled in the MacArthur Study of Successful Aging who were followed for an average of 4.6 years. Information on frequency of religious service attendance and peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) was collected over 3 waves. A linear mixed model with repeated measures was used to compare rate of decline in PEFR between those who attended religious services regularly and those who did not.
Results: Regular religious service attendance was associated with a slower pulmonary function decline among men (by 3.71 L/min per year, p = .02) and women (by 3.27 L/min per year, p = .02), compared to those who never attend services. The findings could not be explained by differences in smoking or physical activity.
Conclusions: Overall findings support the hypothesis that religious activity may play a protective role in maintaining pulmonary health among the elderly.