by James LeFanu, The Telegraph Newspaper, 18 Aug 2014. Religious faith remains by far the best predictor of a long, healthy life
It is encouraging for those reluctant or unable to engage in vigorous exercise that the splendidly named Dr Duck-chul Lee, of Iowa State University, should have found, as reported in this paper last month, that jogging for as little as five minutes a day should be beneficial, dramatically cutting the risk of dying early.
Still, as Richard Scott, a family doctor, notes in this month’s British Journal of General Practice, religious faith remains by far the best predictor of a long and healthy life.
When convalescing recently from a gruelling schedule of chemo and radiotherapy for a tumour of the bowel, Dr Scott, a Christian, read the scholarly Handbook of Religion and Health, whose survey of the research runs to 700 pages.
The positive influence of church attendance is well recognised, but the findings of this overview are, he observes, “quite extraordinary”, with faith reducing the risk of a heart attack by two-thirds and being associated with improved survival of a stroke or cancer.
For mental health, the statistics are even more dramatic: those with depression recover faster, and those with schizophrenia function better, while alcohol and drug misuse is reduced.
“Faith in God,” he says, “is relevant to all diseases yet studied.” That belief could be, as so many nowadays maintain, illusory, but the beneficial effect in conferring “greater happiness, morale, optimism and meaning in life” is indisputably for real.