People attend church for many reasons, most of which are connected to their faith and spiritual growth. Church provides warmth, support, and community even when it’s attended virtually, all of which contribute to the mental and physical health and well-being of seniors. Church offers a welcoming, safe space to connect with others, pursue hobbies, and give back to the community, and this social connection is as important to seniors’ health as a spiritual one.
The Administration for Community Living says that over 28 percent of Americans aged 65 and older live alone. When disaggregated by gender, the percentage of women living alone soars to 46 percent. While not everyone who lives alone is at risk for developing depression or reduced mental well-being, experts agree that connecting with friends—even via virtual church services—boosts brain health and potentially lowers the risk of dementia.
Mental and physical health benefits of attending church online or in person
To thrive in their twilight years, seniors benefit from having a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. Once retired, they need activities to take the place of busy careers or raising children. Seniors who attend church, whether virtually or in person (when it is safe to do so), regularly benefit from:
A sense of community, when church becomes a second family and a built-in support system for sharing life’s problems and celebrating its joys. Praying together also increases that sense of community.
A good support system that reduces the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. Pious people become positive influences and a potential lifeline to people struggling with substance abuse. That social support system provides a healthier alternative than finding comfort in drugs and alcohol.
Accountability and routine. Most people thrive on routine. Seniors have that Sunday ritual to look forward to.
The discipline that religion requires, which can translate into discipline in other areas of their lives. Plus, people who attend church tend to take actions that are more aligned to their personal beliefs, enabling them to live more integrated, well-rounded lives.
A structured time and place for self-reflection. Taking the time to focus energy on clearing thoughts and reducing stress offers multiple benefits, including lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, and stronger self-identity.
An opportunity to contribute to charity, volunteer, or mentor. Older people have a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and experience to share, and church provides a good outlet for them to guide, teach, and inspire others.
Inspiration and motivation. Connecting with other parishioners who have similar interests and hobbies encourages seniors to return to a hobby they love or explore something new. For example, seniors can take online workout classes together, and those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan can visit participating workout facilities for free thanks to SilverSneakers (as soon as it’s safe to do so again, of course!). Since they won’t need to pay an additional fee, seniors can work out with fellow church goers and use them as motivation to stay in good physical health.
Better overall health. A 2016 study showed that regular church attendance can increase lifespan with “lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality.”
The benefits of socialization
Socialization becomes even more critical as people age. Loneliness negatively affects an elderly person’s life, whereas socializing— whether in person, by phone, or online—enriches it. Seniors need activity in their lives to help ward off social isolation and depression, which can lead to risky behavior and substance abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that depression should not be accepted as an unavoidable part of the aging process—it’s diagnosable and treatable. The National Council on Aging created a fact sheet with information on depression in older adults that includes statistics on symptoms, risk, prevalence, and treatments.
Providing seniors with opportunities to socialize even virtually, including at church, decreases the likelihood that they will suffer from debilitating depression and helps them:
Going to church isn’t just about faith and spirituality. Seniors who attend church regularly, even if they join services virtually, benefit from healthier mental attitudes, a more positive outlook on life, and improved physical well-being.