The study, by the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, found that those who attended religious services on at least a weekly basis enjoyed greater life satisfaction as adults than those who did not attend at all.
A religious upbringing was found to have a positive impact on general characteristics into adulthood too, with youngsters who attended weekly services more likely to volunteer, feel a sense of mission, and demonstrate forgiveness. They also showed fewer depressive symptoms than their peers.
Other areas affected by spirituality in adolescence included drug use, with youngsters from religious households less likely to take marijuana later on.
They were also less likely to engage in sexual activities early on in adulthood and had fewer lifetime sexual partners overall than their non-religious peers.
The researchers found similar results among those who did not attend service but regularly prayed or meditated.
'Compared with never praying or meditating, doing so 1–6 times per week was related to greater emotional expression, fewer depressive symptoms, and fewer sexual partners,' the researchers said.
They concluded that attending service and engaging in private spiritual activities could be beneficial for health and wellbeing.
'Although decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, encouraging service attendance and private practices in adolescents who already hold religious beliefs may be meaningful avenues of development and support, possibly leading to better health and wellbeing,' the researchers concluded.
The study was published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The research team looked at the results of studies into the spiritual life and mental and physical health of over 5,000 adolescents whose development was charted over the course of 14 years.