Having religion seems to boost longevity

Dr Kanwaljit Soin raised thought-provoking points and gave valuable advice on how to live a long and happy life (Simple secrets for healthy ageing, April 8).

However, she did not talk about the spiritual dimension of longevity.

It is true that humans are social beings and even after retirement, they need their families and friends.

This means that a working person must be able to cultivate a large social network so that retirement is not plagued by loneliness.

Just as our body needs physical exercise, our brain needs mental exercise in our twilight years.

I find learning Greek and Hebrew interesting, as this keeps my mind alert and nimble.

Reading non-fiction broadens my horizons, and I can comfortably discuss with friends the Brexit conundrum, the Venezuelan crisis and the political development in Malaysia.

A researcher who studies the longevity of people in Ikaria, Greece, and Okinawa, Japan, found that the inhabitants formed a religious community, had family ties, good friends and were on a vegetarian diet. There are more than 400 centenarians in Okinawa.

PhD student Laura Wallace and Dr Baldwin Way of Ohio State University analysed some 1,000 obituaries in the United States, taking into account sex and marital status. They found that those who are active in religious, spiritual or faith groups tend to live 5.64 years longer than others who are atheists and agnostics.

Most religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as prayer or meditation. Religion, it appears, plays a part in longevity too.

Of course, some would argue that it is not so much the religion but factors related to churchgoing that contribute to longevity. These include congregating with a like-minded community and having a network of social support.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Having religion seems to boost longevity'. Print Edition | Subscribe