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The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 55:M400-M405 (2000)
© 2000 The Gerontological Society of America

Does Private Religious Activity Prolong Survival? A Six-Year Follow-up Study of 3,851 Older Adults

Hughes M. Helma, Judith C. Haysb, Elizabeth P. Flintb, Harold G. Koeniga and Dan G. Blazera

a Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
b Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University Medical Center

Hughes M. Helm, 3330 Swansea Street, Durham, NC 27707 E-mail: hmh1{at}

William B. Ershler, MD

Background. Previous studies have linked higher religious attendance and longer survival. In this study, we examine the relationship between survival and private religious activity.

Methods. A probability sample of elderly community-dwelling adults in North Carolina was assembled in 1986 and followed for 6 years. Level of participation in private religious activities such as prayer, meditation, or Bible study was assessed by self-report at baseline, along with a wide variety of sociodemographic and health variables. The main outcome was time (days) to death or censoring.

Results. During a median 6.3-year follow-up period, 1,137 subjects (29.5%) died. Those reporting rarely to never participating in private religious activity had an increased relative hazard of dying over more frequent participants, but this hazard did not remain significant for the sample as a whole after adjustment for demographic and health variables. When the sample was divided into activity of daily living (ADL) impaired and unimpaired, the effect did not remain significant for the ADL impaired group after controlling for demographic variables (hazard ratio [RH] 1.11, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.91–1.35). However, the increased hazard remained significant for the ADL unimpaired group even after controlling for demographic and health variables (RH 1.63, 95% CI 1.20–2.21), and this effect persisted despite controlling for numerous explanatory variables including health practices, social support, and other religious practices (RH 1.47, 95% CI 1.07–2.03).

Conclusions. Older adults who participate in private religious activity before the onset of ADL impairment appear to have a survival advantage over those who do not.

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