Can improving your marriage help you live longer? A fascinating study led by researchers at Hebrew University revealed that Bnei Brak, an Israeli city that has one of the highest proportions of ultra-Orthodox Jews, also had the longest life expectancy in Israel. This is what the report found:
“Adults who attend synagogue regularly (and maintain a religious lifestyle) live longer than their peers who do not attend synagogue.”
The research, conducted by Professor Howard Litwin of the university’s Israel Gerontological Data Center (IGDC), was published in The European Journal of Aging.
The aim of the study was to examine the effect of social ties on longevity. According to Professor Litwin, “Everyone says that the people around you [your relationships] determine how long you will live. The study that we conducted tried to look at this in greater depth and to see whether the interpersonal environment really does contribute to survival.”
The study was based on a Bureau of Statistics survey conducted in 1997, which interviewed about 5,000 Israeli men and women aged 60 and above about their way of life. Seven years later, in 2004, Litwin and his team examined which study participants were still alive and which had passed away. The study focused on 1,811 of the participants, and discovered that 684, or 38 percent, had died. The researchers then compared these findings to the subjects’ ways of life.
“These findings are not surprising, but we did find two other unique variables that influence survival: the frequency of communication with friends and the frequency of synagogue attendance. Those who attended synagogue regularly clearly had the highest rate of survival,” Litwin said.
The data showed that the death rate was 75 percent higher among the group of participants who had not attended synagogue than it was amongst those who had attended synagogue regularly.
Litwin said that there is no clear-cut explanation for the synagogue attendance effect, but there are two main possibilities: “One explanation is spiritual – that is, the individual faith factor. A series of studies that have been conducted in recent years, especially in the United States, argue that faith helps people deal with psychological pressure. People who believe and pray apparently survive longer.”
Another explanation is the connection between attending synagogue and belonging to a supportive community. According to Litwin, “in late old age, the main problem that many people have is the loss of one’s social function. A person who goes to synagogue has a function: He is called to the Torah, and he has a network of social ties in the community.”
For those who do not attend synagogue, the existence of friends can serve as an alternative. “It’s important to remember that according to the findings, social ties carry the same weight as attending synagogue,” Litwin stressed.
Commenting on the connection between the study and well-known factors in the Orthodox community, internationally recognized journalist Jonathan Rosenblum pointed out that “Orthodox family structure would also seem to prolong life. Orthodox Jews have much higher rates of marriage and lower rates of divorce, and both are associated with longer life. Nine of ten married men alive at 48 will make it to 65. The comparable figure for never married men is six out of ten, and divorced and widowed men fare only slightly better. Most Bnei Brak seniors can count on frequent visits from several generations of descendants and experience the constant satisfaction of witnessing their own continuity. There are always lifecycle events of descendants to anticipate.”
Rosenblum concluded that, “No number of studies establishing a correlation between religious belief and health can provide that faith to those who lack it. But those who already possess that faith will not be surprised that following G-d’s instruction book turns out to be good for you.”
I believe that the evidence about relationships is clear. If you want to live longer, the key to success is your ability to work on improving your relationships and deepening your connection with the most important people in your live, especially your spouse. The challenge is to incorporate Torah and positive relationship principles into your daily life and ensure that you and your marriage will live “beyond the moment.”
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the executive director of Shalom Task Force and author of a “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.