An apple a day may keep the doctor away; but it looks like synagogue attendance may be doing the same thing. According to Jeff Levin, Ph.D. Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health at Texas’s Baylor University, going to synagogue makes a difference in the health of Jewish Americans. Five large Jewish urban communities provided data that found “Adults who affiliate with a Jewish religious denomination and attend synagogue report significantly better health than secular or non-practicing Jews.” The data was the first of its kind to pull from large American Jewish communities–previous studies had looked at Israelis and smaller Jewish communities in the United States or Jewish communities in the United Kingdom. And this study did not discriminate among the sects. Whether subjects attended a shul, synagogue, or temple, affiliated Jews from Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform reported better health than non-affiliated Jews. Additionally, those who may not be regularly affiliated but attended synagogue infrequently were found to report better health.
It makes sense that attending synagogue provides an increase in our physical wellbeing. When we go to synagogue we are social, our surroundings are familiar, we are among people we care about, and all of this lowers our level of stress. Sustained stress has been found to raise cortisol levels, a hormone that has been shown to impact our immune system and lead to deleterious effects on everything from wound healing to bone growth. In short, too much stress may make us sick.
I am not a physician, but I know lowered stress and better health are positive points. And as a psychologist, I know that when people have less stress they certainly feel better. So, why not test the study? Imagine giving up your gym membership, throwing away your Bullet Juicer, kicking off the running sneakers, and joining your local synagogue–or at least trying out a Shabbat service. At the very least you will get a smile from your rabbi.
Lisa Grajewski, Psy.D. Is a licensed psychologist with JFFS and an adjunct instructor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has been a contributing writer for Jlife Magazine since 2004.