Being good has its rewards in this life, as well as in the next.
Research conducted partly at the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that regular churchgoers live longer than people who seldom or never attend worship services.
For the first time, that extra lifespan has been quantified. While there are differences between genders and races, in general those who go to church once or more each week can look forward to about seven more years than those who never attend.
Life expectancy beyond age 20 averages another 55.3 years, to age 75, for those who never attend church compared to another 62.9 years, age 83, for those who go more than once a week.
The research showed that people who never attended services had an 87 percent higher risk of dying during the follow-up period than those who attended more than once a week.
The research also revealed that women and blacks can enjoy especially longer lives if they are religiously active.
The findings are contained in a study conducted jointly by Rick Rogers, of CU-Boulder, Robert Hummer and Christopher Ellison, of the University of Texas at Austin, and Charles Nam, from Florida State University.
Rogers is a professor of sociology and a professional research associate with the population program at the university's Institute of Behavioral Science. The study drew on a 1987 National Health Interview Survey of more than 28,000 people and focused on more than 2,000 who died between 1987 and 1995.
Rogers said previous studies had examined and established links between religion, health outcomes and lower risks of mortality but this research broke new ground by testing those relationships against a number of variables.
The research team factored in such elements as education and income, social ties (including marital status and having friends and relatives to count on), and health status and behavior, including such things as smoking and alcohol use.