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Tears wiped away?

Researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) have discovered that practising a religion is better for mental health than sport. Together with the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, the LSE studied the impact of various activities on depression in older people. They found that religious participation was associated with a decline in depressive symptoms, while being part of a political or community organisation (such as a local political party) had a detrimental effect on mental health. Being a member of sports and social clubs had shortterm benefits, but it did not lead to a decline in depression in the long term. The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, involved 9,000 Europeans aged 50 and above, over a fouryear period. Mauricio Avendano, the study's lead author, said that religious activity, such as going to a church, mosque or synagogue regularly, was the only reliable predictor of sustained mental welfare among the areas the researchers looked at. 'The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,' he said. He did also say, however, that the study did not prove how much of the benefit was down to explicitly religious factors (such as faith in a higher being) and how much was due to the sense of belonging which comes with being part of a group. Avendano suggested that further research into religious belonging could offer assistance to medical professionals and psychologists developing mental health treatments. 'There may be things about the church...the kind of cognitive therapy that you may get from having this help to deal with moments of illness that could be useful in designing interventions to decrease depression among older people,' he said. According to the World Health Organisation more than 350 million people suffer from depression, which makes it the chief cause of disability in the world. The study supports results found in earlier research. A 2006 report by the Mental Health Foundation noted that religion and spirituality had been linked to lower levels of depression and that religious belief was helpful in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder . It did also note, however, that children with a strict religious upbringing often expressed increased mental health problems. A 2011 study by Harvard University researchers found that meditation, an originally-spiritual practice that grew out of religions including Hinduism and Buddhism, alters the structure of the brain, resulting in improved memory and a reduction in stress. Nick Spencer, research director at Theos - and Third Way reviwer - argues that religious activity adds an extra dimension to the health benefits which accompany belonging. 'My sense is the difference with religious groups is that ... religious belief furnishes people with a sense of purpose, secure identity and security with regards to your ultimate destiny.'