Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Longest Lived Culture in the United States

If you have followed my blog since the beginning you may remember my post on the longest lived, disease free people in the World.  If I were to just imagine where these people might come from, I would think of the far reaches of this planet, perhaps in some Asian hill country or a tropical paradise. One might expect them to be a nomadic people group with a very simple way of living and eating.  Well, Dan Buettner along with National Geographic sought to find out which people are the longevity champions of the world and what it is about their lifestyles that contribute to their long lives.  Can you imagine their surprise when they discovered a concentration of some of the world's longest lived people in southern California? They came across the Seventh-day Adventists, who account for the largest portion of the population of Loma Linda.  So who on Earth are they?  The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a protestant, Christian denomination that was established in the mid-1800's.  One of the teachings of this denomination is caring for the human body. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has garnered national and international attention (Check out an interview with Anderson Cooper and Dan Buettner, this video with Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz or this article at A series of studies were launched to answer the question, "What is it that makes Adventists live longer?" The Adventist Health Study has tracked (and continues to track) American Adventists over many years and has helped researchers discover factors that contribute to a longer, healthier life. Being an Adventist myself and being married to an Adventist pastor, I can give you an insider's perspective as to what gives the Adventist American an edge on longevity.

If you live in the Washington, D.C. area you may be familiar with the Adventist presence in this region.  Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Washington Adventist University or Contemporary Christian Music radio station WGTS 91.9, which operates from the campus of WAU.  Beyond the D.C. area some other well-known Adventist institutions are Kettering Medical Center, Florida Hospital, Loma Linda University and Hospital, and many others. Aside from our hospitals, universities and schools, what impresses me far more about this denomination is how as a religion, it recognizes the connection between mind, body and spirit, hence the emphasis on health.  Following are some longevity promoting tips that many Adventists include in their lives.

A focus on nutrition and lifestyle:
Seventh-day Adventist doctrine teaches us to follow the Bible's instruction to not consume unclean meats such as pork and shellfish.  (See Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.) However, many Adventists choose to go further by eating closer to the Eden diet of Genesis and are vegetarians. They span the gamut of levels of vegetarianism.  From lacto-ovo to veganism.  According to Adventist Health Study, the more strict the vegetarianism, the healthier the individual.  (Yes, vegetarians do live longer than the average non vegetarian American).  Many Adventists also view healthful living as a comprehensive package and do not limit their approach to nutrition only. They include nutrition, exercise, sunshine exposure, drinking water, getting appropriate rest and abstinence from smoking, drinking and recreational drugs.  Lastly, but by no means least, Adventists weather life's storms with faith which makes for excellent stress control.  I have to say, I have a lot of Adventist friends that are aging really well. My mom is in her mid sixties and says she feels like she is in her twenties.   Despite setbacks and hardships that come with normal everyday living, they are generally a happier group of people - my friends are at least. 

Getting appropriate rest daily and weekly:
Few people would argue that getting good nightly rest is critically important.  Our bodies rebuild and regenerate while we sleep.   All one's efforts toward weight loss, slowing the aging process and creating general health can be shot down by not sleeping well.  Most everyone knows this, but what may not be so well known is that longevity can also be promoted by a weekly 24 hour period of rest.  Adventists observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  During the Sabbath, we do not engage in work and basically shut down to the stresses of everyday living. Have you seen Fiddler on the Roof? Do you remember when Tevye's family was rushing to get the house in order for the Sabbath hours?  Not so different in my house on a Friday evening.  Can I tell you what it does for my psyche to have a clean organized house by sundown and just enjoy the peacefulness of the evening?  I tell my kids that the Sabbath is for faith, family and friendships and they look forward to it just as much as I do.  I get a recharge in mind, body and spirit but I also get a recharge socially.

Adventists have strong social networks:
If you have read The Blue Zones by Dan Beuttner, you may remember that one of the aspects that long lived people enjoy are strong social networks. Adventists most definitely enjoy this as well.  Obviously we attend church on Saturdays.  But many times attending church isn't all we do on the Sabbath.  Sometimes we follow church service with a "potluck" lunch.  At my church, members go all out to bring their best dishes and many guests are so surprised at how delicious vegetarian food can taste.  So Sabbath becomes a day of feasting and fellowship.  We even take our socializing into the night - just having a total blast together with friends. 

Many people unknowingly have learned to live like Adventists.  Other longevity champions around the world certainly have many things in common with Adventists.  If you want to read more about how Adventists live, our denomination has a magazine  and website that discusses the longevity question called Vibrant Life.  I loved one of the recent captions that read something like, "treat your body more like a temple and less like a greasy spoon."  They have excellent recipes and tips on living long, disease free lives.

Enjoy the Journey!