An ounce of prevention

Maintaining optimum health can be a real challenge for pastors in particular. How can you get adequate sleep, exercise, and a proper diet? And how can you fight off the germs you encounter in a day of visiting?

Richard A. Hansen, M. D., is president and medical director of Poland Spring Health Institute, a wellness center in Poland Spring, Maine.


It is always a privilege to provide medical care to the pastor, for efforts put forth to help ministers regain health and prevent disease are often multiplied manyfold in the blessings that extend to their families, parishioners, and the whole community.

So as you, my pastor friend, read this article, you will learn some of the secrets of longevity, peace of mind, and the prevention of many common diseases. You may, by applying these principles, multiply your effectiveness as a minister of God by setting a good example and by reducing your risk of disease.

Most common problem

The most common problem that pastors share with me is just plain tiredness. Fatigue seems to be the common denominator of fast-paced lives. It is a not-too-welcome dividend of a busy, service-filled ministry. While the cause of fatigue is often complex, the remedy is usually quite simple. One major factor that brings on gradual fatigue and exhaustion is sleep deprivation. Benjamin Franklin's old adage "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" is still valid. Which is good news for the shepherd (although no medic would guarantee the "wealthy" part for his pastor). Biologically speaking, two hours of good sound sleep before midnight is actually worth—in regeneration of cortisol, growth hormone, and other endocrine factors—the equivalent of four hours of sleep after midnight. 1 But getting to bed early can be especially difficult for pastors. With board meetings, Bible studies, and visitation all crowding into the evening schedule, "early to bed" may not always be easy to accomplish. But accomplish it whenever you can. Budget your meetings for time. Prepare the agenda in advance and stick with it.

Hours that should be used for sleep are all too often wasted in front of the television, reading magazines, and winding down after a busy day. Head for bed by nine-thirty when possible; crack open the window for ventilation, and turn out the light. Let the congregation know that you go to bed on time. This will help to minimize those unnecessary late-night phone calls.

Quietude is vital to regulate your brain nerves. Consider soundproofing your bedroom. Of course a quiet rural setting is the best location for the parsonage, but if that is unavailable, you may need to use the masking effect of a fan or other steady background noise to help drown out city noise at night. Or you may want to use soft earplugs to help you rest better. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night is essential for most people. However, if chronic deprivation has gradually sapped your energies, look for an "oasis," or retreat, where the body can again be refreshed and its "batteries" recharged.

Fresh air is essential to rest and health of the body. The beneficial presence of trees, particularly evergreens, helps to generate the negative oxygen ions that produce a sense of well being, peace, and energy. Refreshing breezes from the ocean surf, "electric air" generated by a thunderstorm, or fresh outdoor air circulating through your bedroom also helps to make sleep restful. 2 Avoid drafts, though, and keep your extremities warm as a further aid against the common cold.

A hearty breakfast can also be a great help in overcoming fatigue. How you feel in the afternoon depends more on what you eat for breakfast than what you have for lunch. A warm bowl of cereal, two or three pieces of fruit, and toast with peanut butter (or a few nuts) give you the protein, the energy, the complex carbohydrates, and the calories you'll need to keep going through the day.

As far as possible, breakfast should be the heartiest meal of the day, while supper should be light and eaten several hours before going to bed. The American custom of little or no breakfast, snacks between meals, a quick bite for lunch, and the big meal at night is the perfect way to obesity and all of its health hazards.

Fighting infection

Diet can also be important in resisting illness. A diet low in sugar can help reduce your chances of infection. Such a diet helps maintain your immunological system at its optimum strength because it allows the muramidase (lysozyme) enzyme secreted by mucous membranes and present in your tears, nose, saliva, and respiratory tract to operate at peak efficiency. This enzyme wards off the many germs that you contact while shaking hands at the church door, going to potluck dinners, and holding babies in your arms. 3

A prime cause of pulpit cancellations, lost time in visitation, and miserable vacations is the common cold. Sore throats can affect pastors just before the worship hour or sabotage wonderful plans for a campout or retreat. I was traveling by train to a camp meeting a couple years ago and had the misfortune of riding all night with the chilling blast of the air conditioner right on the top of my head. I could neither cut off the draft nor move to another seat because the train was crowded. Blankets were insufficient to shut out the chill. By the time I arrived at my destination, laryngitis had set in and my voice was already hoarse. How thankful I was for a simple home remedy called the heating compress. This simple hydrotherapeutic remedy is always helpful in such emergencies.

With the help of a compress and with the scriptural promise of Psalm 5:3, "My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord," I arrived at my class in hydrotherapy ready and able to teach.

So what is a heating compress, and how do you make one? Take a clean handkerchief and fold it into a long rectangle, or cut a strip of sheet (about 2" x 24") and dip it in cool water. Wring it nearly dry and wrap it snugly around your neck. Cover this cool cloth with a wool sock or warm blanket-type material, slightly wider and longer (3" x 30"), to completely cover the edges. The body quickly warms the inside cloth. Put the compress on at bedtime and leave it on overnight. It will be dry by morning. The gentle heating effect of this compress, warmed by the body, brings relief in tonsillitis, laryngitis, and sore throats that often accompany a viral infection. The compress can also be applied to the chest in case of bronchial congestion or chest colds.

Hydrotherapy is a powerful remedy. This old-fashioned use of water is amazingly effective. The sedative or neutral tub bath (92-96 F) is an excellent way to relax and calm the nerves. You can read MINISTRY while you are in it, too. When you feel a cold or a flulike illness coming on, make the bath hotter (102- 104 F), and lie in the tub until you are perspiring freely. Cool your head frequently with a washcloth wrung out in cold water. Drink liberal amounts of water or herb tea, then crawl into bed for an extra hour or two of sleep. Attacking contagious germs at the first sign of illness is the best way to win the battle. Further details of how to apply hydrotherapy are available in my book Get Well at Home. 4

Related to hydrotherapy—water on the outside—is water on the inside. Many pastors drink too little water. Traveling between appointments or from church to church, the body rapidly becomes dehydrated. One actually needs about one-third more water than thirst requires. And there is nothing better for hydration than pure, soft water, such as that from a spring or a well. More and more consumers are purchasing bottled water or a distiller, although this is not usually necessary if a pure domestic supply is available. Remember to carry water with you in your car. After a glass or two upon rising, leave for your appointments with a two-quart jar full of water (a glass container makes it taste much better). Be sure to get your eight-glass quota in before nightfall. Water is a great way to prevent headaches and congestion.

How to avoid a heart attack

Next to abortion, coronary heart disease leads the list of common killers today. Called the "white collar plague," heart attacks take the lives of more than 500,000 Americans each year. 5 The leading correctable causes of heart attacks today are well-defined—lack of exercise, fat-rich, high-cholesterol diet, excessive intake of sugar, obesity, high blood pressure, stress, and tobacco smoking.

I was attending an executive committee of our conference when the request came to pray for Pastor H, who was undergoing bypass surgery. I knew this man, an active, friendly fellow in his early 60s. Three years before, I had seen him looking ill and suggested that he get a reconditioning course at our health institute. The pastor wasn't interested, and the administration also was unconvinced. He asked, "Why can't I just pray, do my best, and let the Lord take care of my health?" But seeing him slowly recover from a triple bypass convinced me that an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure. A carefully presented exercise program in a preventive health retreat, a special anticoronary diet (free of cholesterol, low in fat, and calorie controlled), and instruction on stress control, emphasizing harmony with nature and peace with God, have brought relief to many people. Why could it not work for a pastor?

Morning exercise is a healthy way to start your day. Walking in the cool of the day, cultivating your garden, tending the grounds, all enhance an enjoyable con tact with nature. It is easy for a busy pastor to neglect exercise. But to be most beneficial, exercise must become habit and part of your lifestyle. The best exercise for you is naturally one you enjoy so much that you can do it every day for the rest of your life. When in the course of duty your pastoral stress is going to be most intense, along with extra time for prayer, spend extra time in stretching and strengthening your muscles. Remember that Elisha was a farmer. And after Paul's greatest miracle, raising Eutychus to life, the apostle walked the better part of a day instead of riding with his companions (see 1 Kings 19:19; Acts 20:13).

You will need to budget at least an hour a day in exercise to maintain optimum physical fitness. This means walking at least three or four miles, working physically in your garden, chopping wood, or some other vigorous aerobic-type activity. Even running, swimming, bicycling, or athletic sports can suffice, if you do them on a regular basis.

Preventing cancer

The second most common killer of adults is cancer. Although cancer takes many forms, the most common types are lung and digestive cancers in men, and breast, lung, and uterine cancers in women. Regular examinations are important to detect the early warning signs. Seven danger signals have been well publicized by the American Cancer Society. But remember, the most important factor in prevention is life style. Nothing does more to prevent cancer than the avoidance of tobacco smoking. But proper nutrition is of equal importance, and an increasing body of literature supports the value of a vegetarian diet.

The nitrite preservatives used in many cured and prepared sausage-type meats are very dangerous. In the stomach they form nitrosamines, cancer-producing agents. 6 Charcoal-broiled steaks have large amounts of benzopyrene, one of the carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. 7 Inspection of food animals is increasingly risky and haphazard with diseased beef, pork, veal, lamb, and fish regularly appearing in the marketplace or sent on to fast-food restaurants and schools. Pollution is enhancing the risk to animals, and cancerous tumors are increasingly cropping up in the liver, eye, skin, and other organs of beef, poultry, and swine. One way to avoid these problems is a vegetarian diet.

An additional benefit of a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts is that many plant foods contain factors that have been shown to enhance immunity and prevent the formation of cancer. 8 Trypsin inhibitors from soy beans, lactones from the whole grains, fiber, vitamin E, selenium from the whole-grain cereals, and vitamin C from fruits and vegetables are a few of the identifiable beneficial agents found in a diet most resembling that given to Adam in Eden.

Good diet yields results

The Adventist Health Study of more than 25,000 adults in California has shown some interesting factors. This group, of which about 50 percent are vegetarians, has far less heart attacks than the average American. 9 The projected life span for middle-aged men (aged 35 to 40) is 6.2 years longer than the general population. In addition to a nonsmoking stand by the Adventist Church, which accounts for half of the advantage, there is no question that the emphasis on a healthy lifestyle and the vegetarian diet play prominent roles. 10 The Framingham, Massachusetts, Study, led by Dr. William Castelli, has shown that individuals who consistently maintain a blood cholesterol level of 150 milligrams percent or less almost never have heart attacks.

For health-conscious pastors, we suggest that you have your cholesterol tested at least once a year along with your triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure as part of your annual physical. In most people a satisfactory level can be achieved by careful adherence to a vegetarian diet, a regular exercise program, and the appropriate handling of stress.

The wife of a young ministerial student brought him to the clinic. "Doctor," she said, "my husband isn't the same man he used to be. His personality has changed, he is no longer patient with the children, and he is losing interest rapidly in his call to the ministry." I questioned her carefully and soon uncovered important clues as to the cause. While working to make ends meet and support a family of four, her husband had taken on two jobs in addition to a full load of studies. Too busy to eat, he was living on soft drinks, candy bars, and an occasional sandwich or quick bite while passing through the kitchen.

My suggestion was simple: No more sweets, get more rest, and cut back on work hours. Tests confirmed my suspicion. He was suffering from reactive hypoglycemia, a disease of lifestyle related to sugar, stress, and caffeine. Two weeks later the couple came back radiant. Hand in hand, they both seemed happy, and the husband's health was well on the way to restoration.

Regular meals of natural foods are important. Avoid sweet cereals, the sugar bowl, ice-cream feeds, and fastfood restaurants. Fast-food feeding is a fast way to become bedfast from all kinds of degenerative diseases—unless, of course, you just go for the salad bar! And "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 2).

The Great Physician said to the pastor as well as his flock, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). There is much more to be shared that could help you, pastor, achieve better health. Many preventive factors are obvious, though, like obeying the speed limit, buckling your seat belt, control ling your weight, and getting enough sleep. But after this armchair consultation we have had, I trust that you will prioritize your lifestyle. Start now to plan ahead and achieve the best of health in your body temple, so that you may be an example to the flock, a strength to your family, and bring much glory to the Lord.

* Hansen, Richard A., M.D., Get Well at Home
(Poland Spring, Maine, Shiloh Medical Publica
tions, 1980). See Shop Talk for a special offer on
this book.

1 Bernell E. Baldwin, Ph.D., "The Pituitary,"
Joumal of Health and Healing 8 (1983): pp. 6-8. See
also: Jay Tepperman, M.D., Metabolic and Endocrine
Physiology, 2d ed. (Chicago: Year Book
Medical Publishers, Inc., 1968), pp. 120-125;
William A. Sodeman, M.D., et al., Pathologic

Physiology Mechanism of Disease (Philadelphia:
W.B. Saunders Co., 1968), pp. 142, 143; E. G.
White letter 85, 1888.

2 Baldwin, "Why Is Fresh Air Fresh?" Wildwood
Echoes, Fall, 1979, pp. 2-4. See also: Calvin and
Gazenko, "Ecological and Physiological Bases of
Space Biology and Medicine," Foundations of Space
Biology and Medicine (1975), Vol. II, book 1, pp.
69, 70; Albert Paul Krueger, "Air Ions and
Physiological Function," The Journal of General
Physiology 45 (1962): 233-241.

3 C. H. Best andN. B. Taylor, The Physiological
Basis of Medical Practice, 8th ed. (Baltimore:
Williams and Wilkins Co., 1966), p. 1070.

4 Richard A. Hansen, M.D., Get Well at Home
(Poland Spring, Maine: Shiloh Medical Publica
tions, 1980). See Shop Talk for a special offer on
this book.

5 J. Willis Hurst, M.D., et al, "Etiology of
Coronary Atherosclerosis," The Heart (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1978), pp. 1103-1108.

6 P. Issenberg, "Nitrite, Nitrosamines, and
Cancer," Federation Proceedings 35 (1976); 1322-

7 M.E. Doremire, G. Harmon, and D.E. Pratt,
"3-4-Benzopyrene in Charcoal Grilled Meats,"
Journal of Food Science 44 (1979): pp. 622, 623.

8 National Research Council Committee, Diet,
Nutrition, and Cancer (Washington, D.C.:
National Academy Press, 1982).

9 Adventist men in the 35- to 64-year age group
have only 26 percent of the expected coronary
heart disease death rate. When this group is
divided into complete vegetarians and nonvegetarians,
it is seen that the nonvegetarian group has
three times the coronary death rate (37 percent of
the rate expected in the non-Adventist population
versus 12 percent).

10 D. A. Snowden, R. L. Phillips, and G. E.
Frazer, "Meat Consumption and Fatal Ischemic
Heart Disease," Preventive Medicine 13 (1984):
490-500; R. L. Phillips and D. A. Snowden, "The
Association of Meat and Coffee With Cancers of
the Large Bowel, Breast, and Prostate Among
Seventh-day Adventists," Cancer Research 43,
Suppl. (1983): 2403-2408.

Advertisement - Ministry in Motion 300x250

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
Richard A. Hansen, M. D., is president and medical director of Poland Spring Health Institute, a wellness center in Poland Spring, Maine.

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated


Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)