Could going to church boost your heart health? Maybe so, according to new research.
A Norwegian study, published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, shows that the more time a person spends at church, the lower his or her blood pressure.
Researchers said that previous research looking at United States church attendance has shown similar results, but that the results were strengthened by this study because such a small percentage of people in the Norwegian county, where the study was conducted, attend church.
"About 40 percent of the US population goes to church on a weekly basis, while the corresponding figure in Nord-Trondelag County is 4 percent," study researcher Torgeir Sorensen, of the School of Theology and Religious Psychology Center at Sykehuset Innlandet, said in a statement. "For that reason, we did not expect to find any correlation between going to church and blood pressure in Nord-Trøndelag. Our findings, however, are almost identical to those previously reported from the United States. We were really surprised."
Researchers looked at the health data from about 41,000 Norwegians that was taken between 2006 and 2008, MyHealthNewsDaily reported. They filled out questionnaires about their church attendance, and they also had their blood pressure measured.
Even after excluding factors like age, heart disease, depression and education level, researchers still found an association between going to church often and having a lower blood pressure level, according to MyHealthNewsDaily.
"Earlier studies have shown a positive correlation between humor and good health, and participation in different cultural activities and good health. It would appear that the data we have been recording about religious beliefs is actually relevant to your health," study researcher Professor Jostein Holmen, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told the Daily Mail. "The fact that churchgoers have lower blood pressure encourages us to continue to study this issue."
However, researchers noted that it's still not clear whether it's the church going that spurs the lower blood pressure, or if it's the lower blood pressure that spurs the church going.
A previous study, conducted by researchers from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine actually showed the opposite effect -- that people who are regular church-goers don't have lower blood pressure, and in fact the ones who tried to incorporate religion into their lives the most had the highest blood pressure in the study. However, it should be noted that this study was much smaller than the Norwegian one (it included 200 people).
"I think the whole issue of religion and health is really complex," Amy Luke, an associate professor at the university, told HealthDay.
Psychology Today reported that religion can also boost health by providing people with feelings of hope and belongingness, as well as increase a person's self-esteem and sense of being protected from existential forces.