Seniors and Spirituality: Elders Benefit from Organized Religious Practice

As a group seniors are the most active participants in organized religion in the United States, with approximately half attending religious services weekly. About 90 percent of elders consider themselves spiritual in some way, with only 6 to 10 percent saying they are atheists and do not utilize conventional religious practices to bring meaning to their lives.

For those who do adhere to an organized religion, this is the largest source of support other than their families. Taking part in religious activities is the most common type of voluntary social activity. Organized religion is more common than all other forms of voluntary social activity combined.

There are several benefits for seniors to be connected to a religion and active in it. First of all, they are healthier physically and mentally. However, the causes of the correlation are not simple to determine, since it is possible that healthier people tend to participate in social activities more than less healthy people, so it might not be that the religion is keeping its participants healthier, but the other way around.

  • Studies have shown that religion might provide the following benefits for seniors:
    A great attitude towards life and the future. Staying positive and hopeful has been shown to lead directly to better health.
  • Putting meaning into life has been shown to positively affect healthy behaviors and improve social and family relationships.
  • Religion gives people more tools to cope with illness and disability.
  • Many religions discourage or even forbid unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol consumption or tobacco use, keeping its adherents healthier.
  • Organized religion promotes community and social support for its members in need. Increased social contact has many health benefits.

There are other benefits for seniors to be aligned with organized religion, such as accepting counseling more readily from clergy, support for those caring for them, and a general improved ability to cope.