Does Being Religious Help You Live Longer?

ByABC News
October 23, 2005, 5:26 PM

Oct. 23, 2005 — -- Marge Jetton got her first car around the time cars were invented. At 101 years old, Jetton is still behind the wheel.

At 94, Marion Westermeyer is still perfecting his dive. "I don't think I'd be alive if I quit," he said.

At 91, Dr. Ellsworth Wharem is visiting a patient he helped operate on last night. "It's enjoyable to continue to be out in the field," Wharen said.

What do these "super seniors" have in common? They're all members of America's longest-living community -- the Seventh Day Adventists of Calfornia.

The Adventist church was born during the era of 19th century health reform. The church has always preached and practiced message of health -- no smoking, alcohol, rich food, caffeine. And they recommend plenty of exercise, such as daily walks.

But the real secret, members say, is their faith itself.

"There's evidence, a lot of evidence from many different faiths that people who are actively involved in their religion, in fact, live longer," said Dr. Gary Fraser of Loma Linda University.

One study found that those who attended religious services regularly live an average of eight years longer. Some experts suggest that a religious life may reduce stress and bring the comfort of a community.

But not all researchers are convinced it extends life. "There's no evidence that there's any medical benefit to religious practices," said professor Richard Sloan of the Columbia University Medical Center.

But Jetton doesn't concern herelf with the debate -- she's too busy. She just renewed her driver's license for another five years. After all, she needs to be able to get to her daily workouts.

ABC News' Gigi Stone filed this report for "World News Tonight."