Seven simple suggestions

Can eating between meals be as harmful as smoking? Can insufficient sleep or being overweight shorten life as much as a lack of vigorous exercise? A nine-year study of more than 6,000 adults says Yes!

Gary D. Strunk is director of Adventist Health Ministries for the Ontario Conference.

One of the most significant research projects of this century in the field of health was reported by Belloc and Breslow in Preventive Medicine, volume 1, August, 1972, pages 409-421. Using 6,928 adults from Alameda County, California, they determined from their study that the level of health an individual enjoys is especially dependent upon simple health practices followed from day to day.

The same study group has since been followed for nine and a half years, revealing that the very same simple health practices followed day by day, when taken collectively, are more significant contributors to longer life than almost any other factors yet discovered. Of course, other single-item contributors to early mortality or longevity are recognized in other studies; for example, smoking is one of the most significant contributors to early death, while vegetarianism, organization of behavior, and an active social life are among the better predictors of long life.

Let's take a look at the results of Belloc and Breslow's studies, because they represent good research. They are quotable. They vindicate God's simple suggestions for good health.

The first study was an effort to determine the relationship of certain physical health practices to physical health status. A spectrum was developed describing five carefully defined levels of health: (1) disability; (2) chronic conditions; (3) impairments; (4) symptoms; and (5) energy level. Each of the 6,928 adults was classified according to this health spectrum, and a relationship was plotted for each one according to his or her observance of the following seven simple conditions or health-affecting practices: alcohol consumption; hours of sleep; eating between meals; physical activity; weight; eating breakfast; and smoking.

As a result of this study, the recommended health practices are:

1. Get not less than seven and not more than nine hours of sleep each night.

2. Eat breakfast almost every day.

3. Eat between meals rarely or never.

4. For men, weigh no less than 5 percent under and no more than 19.99 percent over ideal weight; for women, weigh no less than 5 percent under and no more than 9.99 percent over ideal weight.

5. Engage often in active sports, swim or take long walks, garden or do physical exercises.

6. Drink none or not more than two drinks of alcohol at one time. [MINISTRY strongly recommends total abstinence.]

7. Never smoke cigarettes.

Now we come to the exciting part, the part that makes this study so significant. The graph illustrates the researchers' conclusion that each one of these good health practices is significant by itself. No one practice alone is more significant than any of the others in making its adherents better or worse. In the words of the researchers themselves: "Regular meals, adequate sleep, near-average weight, physical activity, and avoidance of smoking and excessive drinking were all positively related to health. There was no common factor substantially underlying the association between physical health status and the habits of daily life that were studied. Each individual one is significant."

This means that eating breakfast regularly is as important as not drinking excessive alcohol! Getting the right amount of sleep is as important as being the correct weight! Eating between meals is just as injurious as smoking! Each one of these habits is significant by itself, and the effects are cumulative. As each one is added, the health improves measurably. But are these simple natural resources the things researchers actually study in a scientific experiment? These items aren't sensational. They don't grab headlines like a vaccine to prevent polio or a penicillin to counteract infection. They wouldn't make much difference in one's length of life or level of health, would they? Are they really very important?

In the graph, the lower the line is on the scale, the fewer poor-health indices are present, and the better is one's health. To what degree? A person following all seven of the health practices described in the California study is physiologically the same age as (he feels, acts, and lives like) a person thirty years younger who practices only 0 to 2 of them! That's quality physical life with its concomitant emotional and spiritual benefits. These simple health practices hold greater potential for a longer, better life for the average adult than does almost any other medical discovery to date! Yet it's not at all unusual to find a person who follows none of these recommendations, a person who doesn't sleep adequately or who sleeps far too much, who skips breakfast and eats any time, who is either extremely thin or very much overweight, who never seeks exercise, and who drinks and smokes.

Now comes the second exciting observation, one that could not have been made even ten years ago. These health practices are related not only to morbidity but also to mortality to a striking degree. This second study was done on adults. From 1900 to 1970 the average length of life for an adult white male has increased only four years. Yet look at what following these simple health practices can do! Those following 0 to 3 of the seven health practices identified in the study had an average age at death of 67 years. Of those following 4 to 5 practices, the average age at death was 73 (a gain of six years), and for those following 6 to 7 practices the average age at death was 78, a gain of eleven years of life over those following 0 to 3 of the health habits. (See Breslow and Enstrom, Preventive Medicine, vol. 9, June/July, 1980, pp. 469-483.)

This is highly significant! Many health experts have not credited some of the simple practices such as amount of sleep, eating between meals, et cetera, with having any significant effect upon length of life. This research shows these simple procedures to be more important than almost anything else in determining both quality and quantity of life. Just imagine how much better off a Seventh-day Adventist Christian can be by putting into practice all the simple health procedures available to him in the wise counsels of God.

I use these two studies in the first night of my Christian Health Seminar in order to illustrate the significance of the natural remedies that God has given us as found in The Ministry of Healing, page 127. I draw a parallel between the seven practices described in the study above and the eight natural remedies outlined by God. The similarity between these two lists is not so much in their direct parallels as in their simplicity, their common-sense approach, their ready availability to everyone, their lack of mystery. These are what everyday physical life is made up of.

God has given the world, through Seventh-day Adventists, even more than Belloc and Breslow have studied. He has given us a vegetarian diet, probably the greatest prevention of cardiovascular dis ease and cancer. He has given us the serenity of an informed trust in God. He has preserved us from the injurious effects of animal fat, diseased products, spices, coffee, tea, and more. Experts estimate that 80 percent of all cancer is preventable by a prudent life style that in essence is an application of the eight natural remedies.

O how we fail to grasp the full dimensions of inspired writings! These available, simple remedies so clearly stated are not simply "the best efforts of the author's day" or the product of "contemporary thought." They apply not to one local culture. They span the centuries and are found to be common to mankind in every age, from Adam to the 144,000.

A further observation that needs to be made from this research is its emphasis on life management, especially in the area of diet. We are delighted, of course, for what can truly be called the wonders of modern medicine. But much of medicine has been the taking of a pill, or a syrup, or a shot, or something. To this concept add the effect of nutritional studies that have given us vitamins A, B, C, D, E, et cetera, all of which can be taken in a pill. The effect of these approaches has been to lure us into an antidotal mentality that emphasizes too much the what to the neglect of the how, especially in diet. This thinking has spurred millions to search for formulas of some magic substance "to take" to give them energy or disease resistance or renewed vitality.

There is value in the what. But it's not just what we eat; it's also when we eat. It's whether we eat breakfast or skip it. It's whether we eat too much or just the right amount. It's how and when we eat. We can take the very best of food and make ourselves sick with it by eating it at improper times and amounts. On the other hand we can take a lesser quality food and, by eating regularly and properly, can be healthier than a person blessed with an abundance. This is why the poor can be every bit as healthy as the rich if they have a knowledge of God's simple laws of management.

These laws are simple, available, inexpensive, and important! Public health nutrition as practiced in the world has not yet fully recognized the value of these food management practices. Its emphasis is almost entirely on the what of eating. It has advised films illustrating "healthy snacking." It suggests eating pizzas, apples, and tomatoes between meals rather than candy, cheese puffs, and potato chips. But as Seventh-day Adventist Christians possessing the abundance of health counsels God has given us, shouldn't we avoid eating between meals completely? Children will fall into line with what parents consistently do. Children won't if parents don't.

We teach that smoking is a sin. But this research indicates that eating between meals can have as dire a consequence to the quality of health and the length of life as smoking. That's why God in His mercy, His kindness, and His efforts to heal us before we get sick has told us that "never should a morsel of food pass the lips between meals," "not even an apple, a nut, or any kind of fruit" (Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 181, 182). These practices depress the spirits, demoralize the attitude, and contribute to early death.

The world is yet waiting for that magnificent demonstration of the wisdom of God's commandments, the simple wisdom revealed by inspiration, which becomes common sense when finally understood and its significance appreciated. Magnanimous mercy! Magnificent opportunity!

If we really love our heavenly Father and have a deep concern for the welfare of suffering humanity, let's stop degrading ourselves. Let's groom ourselves royally as princes and princesses of the King of heaven.

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Gary D. Strunk is director of Adventist Health Ministries for the Ontario Conference.

October 1981

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