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Now it's the medics saying: go to shul

    If you are one of those High Holy Day-only shul-goers, you may want to consider bumping up your attendance levels - and, this time, the advice does not come from rabbis.

    A new study by medical researchers at Harvard University says that the more you go to religious services, the higher the odds of living longer.

    According to the research, published last month, women who attended religious services more than once a week were 33 per cent less likely to die prematurely.

    The women, whose health was tracked over a 16-year period, also suffered from fewer cases of heart disease and cancer.

    "Our results suggest that there may be something important about religious service attendance beyond solitary spirituality," said the study's lead author Tyler VanderWeele, a Harvard epidemiology professor.

    "Part of the benefit seems to be that attending religious services increases social support, discourages smoking, decreases depression, and helps people develop a more optimistic or hopeful outlook of life."

    Jews who deliberately avoid shul-going might seek solace in the fact that the study followed 75,534 mostly Christian-American women between 1996 and 2012.

    Only 1,700 of them - two per cent - were Jewish.

    On the other hand, according to Mr VanderWeele, a 2007 study of 1,800 elderly Jewish-Israeli men showed similar results: attending synagogue encouraged "survival [by being] a source of communal attachment."

    The researchers stressed they were uncertain how their findings applied to the general population. Their study was "observational", they said, and could not determine any actual "cause-and-effect" between attending religious services and mortality.

    A link between religious service attendance and health could not be explained by one single mechanism, Mr VanderWeele said.

    "There appear to be many pathways from religion to health. Religious service attendance affects many aspects of a person's life and the cumulative effect of all of these seem to have a substantial effect on health."

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