Although numerous studies suggest that religious involvement is associated with a wide range of favorable health outcomes, it is unclear whether this general pattern extends to cellular aging. In this paper, we tested whether leukocyte telomere length varies according to several dimensions of religious involvement. We used cross-sectional data from the Nashville Stress and Health Study (2011-2014), a large probability sample of 1252 black and white adults aged 22 to 69 living in Davidson County, TN, USA. Leukocyte telomere length was measured using the monochrome multiplex quantitative polymerase chain reaction method with albumin as the single-copy reference sequence. Dimensions of religious involvement included religiosity, religious support, and religious coping. Our multivariate analyses showed that religiosity (an index of religious attendance, prayer frequency, and religious identity) was positively associated with leukocyte telomere length, even with adjustments for religious support, religious coping, age, gender, race, education, employment status, income, financial strain, stressful life events, marital status, family support, friend support, depressive symptoms, smoking, heavy drinking, and allostatic load. Unlike religiosity, religious support and religious coping were unrelated to leukocyte telomere length across models. Depressive symptoms, smoking, heavy drinking, and allostatic load failed to explain any of the association between religiosity and telomere length. To our knowledge, this is the first population-based study to link religious involvement and cellular aging. Although our data suggest that adults who frequently attend religious services, pray with regularity, and consider themselves to be religious tend to exhibit longer telomeres than those who attend and pray less frequently and do not consider themselves to be religious, additional research is needed to establish the mechanisms underlying this association.
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