Want to live longer? Be a monk

Roger Dobson
Sunday 16 June 2002 00:00 BST

Taking up holy orders may not guarantee life after death, but it does ensure a longer one on earth.

Taking up holy orders may not guarantee life after death, but it does ensure a longer one on earth.

New research shows that ministers, priests, vicars, nuns and monks live much longer, and healthier, than their flocks.

Benedictine monks, the least likely to prematurely succumb to earthly disease, have a mortality rate almost half that of mere civilians.

Researchers who looked at the mortality rate data for religious professionals in the UK, Europe and America, found that in all cases, the rates were lower than those of the average population.

The data is based on standardised mortality rates or SMRs of the clergy compared to those of the same age, sex, and race in the population.

In almost all the data studied, the SMR for the clergy was below 90 per cent which means that 10 per cent fewer clergy died than did ordinary people.

In some clergy, Benedictine monks, Baptist ministers, Lutheran Ministers, Episcopal Priests, Presbyterian ministers, and catholic nuns, the mortality rate was at least 25 per cent lower than the general population.

The researchers, reporting in the Journal of Religion and Health this week, found that many of the religious groups had far less disease, including heart disease and cancer, than other people.

The report details the case of Italian nuns who had taken a vow of silence. Women living in nearby towns showed the typical increase in blood pressure associated with age, but the nuns' blood pressure remained virtually the same for the 30-year study.

Tradition predisposes the sisters to refrain from medication, or even from complaining about health problems. The majority also avoid physical examinations.

Diet has been put forward as a reason for their longevity, but this has been discounted as many now work and live in the community and share similar diets to those of the average population.

Other reasons put forward include the low levels of occupational stress, low rates of high blood pressure, high levels of personal resources and contemplative lifestyle of nuns and priests.

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