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Editor's note: In our November/December 2013 issue we discussed foods and what a Christian should eat. That article brought in a great deal of mail. Our readers are obviously interested in the issue of a Christian's response to caring for the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16). One of our readers, Jim Mitroka, is an associate professor of pharmacology at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He submitted the following which we are pleased to share with you.


bottle of pillsWhat do you think is the best way to minimize the ravages of disease on health? Unfortunately, our focus is often on drugs and medical treatment. Largely because of our reliance on modern medicine, we naturally look to products found in a bottle as solutions to illness. Likewise, we tend to think in terms of treating existing illnesses rather that preventing them in the first place.

The drugs-only perspective is shortsighted, since many — indeed most — of the chronic diseases that plague our society are largely the result of poor lifestyle choices. In other words, they are avoidable or at least “delayable.” A recent review published in Archives of Internal Medicine states that four simple lifestyle factors appear to be associated with as much as an 80% reduction in the risk of developing the most common and deadly chronic diseases.1 Those factors are: (1) never smoking, (2) maintaining a healthy weight, (3) exercising regularly, and (4) following a healthy diet. Lifestyle has been associated, to various degrees, with Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, asthma, some kinds of cancer, chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic renal failure, osteoporosis, stroke, depression, and obesity.

Drug therapy can play a key role in treating illness. However, we need to be mindful that, for most diseases, drugs are an adjunct treatment, rather than the first-line approach to treatment. Most of the public health measures that have lowered the incidence of infectious disease have resulted from better sanitation or even the simple act of thorough hand-washing. In the same way, some non-western populations live long and healthy lives with little or no availability of medications. This is well documented in the book, The Blue Zones.2


The psalmist tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). As Christians, the importance of making proper lifestyle choices is a fundamental part of our faith. First Corinthians 6:20 tells us, “You were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body.” That means more than simply avoiding sexual sins. Those of us who are healthcare professionals know at a very deep level the meaning of being created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). It is incumbent on us to respect the Creator by taking care of the one body he has entrusted to each of us. What is equally marvelous is how keeping a healthy lifestyle is a manifestation of living a godly life as described by the Bible. A lifestyle that results in better health is a great witness that we respect and obey God's exhortation concerning our bodies.


Family So, what are these lifestyle factors that are key to better health? Of course, the list is endless, but we can focus on three key factors: (1) proper diet, (2) exercise, and (3) rest. We have intentionally left non-smoking out of the list, since this goes without saying! Also, you may notice that “maintaining a proper weight” is not listed as a factor. For the most part, eating a healthy spectrum of foods and getting adequate exercise takes care of this automatically. Now let us look at each factor individually.


The first and possibly most important factor is diet, or simply eating right. With respect to diet, it is interesting to note that the traditional Atkins style diet, which shuns carbohydrates and favors meats and fats, has largely been put to rest. The Bible speaks highly of bread from many writers of the Old Testament. Jesus even calls himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35).

Woman contemplating what to eat.The Bible has many references to food, but two that are particularly relevant are the approbation against gluttony (Philippians 3:19) and the story of Daniel and the three Hebrew trainees who asked to have vegetables in place of the King's rich meals. The overall message from this passage in Daniel 1:12 – 13 is that we are to eat primarily plant-based foods and eat amounts of food that are in moderation. The diet of our Lord, now referred to as “the Mediterranean diet” which is characterized by eating fruits and vegetables, unsaturated oils (i.e., olive, canola), and fish, has been shown to have numerous health benefits. One study, the Lyon's heart study, showed that adherence to such a diet lowered the incidence of cardiac events by 70% relative to the low-fat diet recommended by The American Heart Association (AHA).3

The Bible goes on to give us two other caveats regarding diet. One is that salt is acceptable, even vital in small quantities. Consider the scripture: “Let your conversation be seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6, paraphrased). Also, Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13a). Jesus would not have used something that is harmful to us in this positive illustration. The other caveat to remember is that wine, in moderation, is acceptable, but the Bible warns against drunkenness and the effect of strong drink (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Proverbs 20:1). On the other hand, Paul instructs Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23) that a little wine may be beneficial. Studies have supported that wine and unfermented grape juice can have a distinctly protective effect against cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease.4 (Editor's note: see “Alcohol and Memory Loss” on page 30.)


Woman jogging along the ocean.The next area is exercise. Here the scripture says relatively little, but a consideration of the life of Jesus, and the long distances he traveled by foot along the hilly terrain of Galilee and the surrounding areas suggests a lifestyle characterized by movement. Also, Paul in his letters frequently mentions “running the race” (1 Corinthians 9:24) and “physical training” (1 Timothy 4:8). Most studies suggest that 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, like a brisk walk, most days of the week, is a good place to start. Activities such as walking, biking, hiking, and gardening, a few minutes here and there throughout the day provide most of the cardiovascular benefit of an intense workout at the gym. Also, exercises that provide resistance to the major muscle groups two to three times a week help strengthen bones and muscles.5 The key to exercise is finding a way to make it enjoyable, or at least less burdensome! Biking, hiking, gardening, and other activities that get you out and moving in God's world provide you with exercise while bringing joy, peace, and a closeness to the Creator.


Woman reading the Bible.The last area of concern is rest. By this, we mean enjoying freedom from stress (at least for some time during the week) and getting adequate sleep. Short-term stress is a natural part of the human condition, say in response to a test, a car accident, or some other challenging event. However, long-term stress can cause significant harm to the body. Long-term stress results in chronic elevations in circulating cortisol and epinephrine levels. The result is familiar to any pharmacist because they virtually mirror the adverse reactions of long-term corticosteroid elevations: weakness of the bones, thinning of the skin, derangement in intermediary metabolism, heightened susceptibility to infection, and ulcers. In addition, stress is a factor in heart disease. Coping with stress is challenging, but as Christians we need to turn our fears and worries over to the Lord. The discipline of having a special place and time for daily, quiet meditation on God's word and quiet time with God in prayer can go a long way to “de-stressing” our lives and filling our “spiritual tanks” (Mark 1:35). It is also helpful to get rid of the frivolous and unimportant activities that steal our time and leave us feeling rushed and depleted spiritually and emotionally. The special time we spend seeking God's plan for our lives, meditating on his Word, and planning our day according to his priorities can also help de-stress and can even bless our busy day. Jesus was very clear in emphasizing that we should not allow ourselves to become stressed. Consider his words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1), and “Do not be anxious for your life” (Matthew 6:25). Also, consider his example: “After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23). We are to trust the Lord and make an effort to be at peace. Part of each day, and even one entire day each week (as stated in Exodus 35:2) should be set aside for rest, serving as a “Sabbath” from the everyday activities of life. Getting a good night’s sleep, in terms of both the quality and the quantity of sleep, is a key element of rest in a healthy lifestyle. Seven or eight hours of sleep, on a regular basis, is a good guideline. It is also important to maintain a regular sleep schedule so that the body can develop a regular rhythm of activity and rest.


The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are enormous. Taking care of our bodies not only helps us to serve others more fully, but it also provides an example and witness of our faith. It reflects a character of commitment and discipline. It shows that we honor God by taking care of his handiwork — our bodies. Jesus' exhortation of loving God and loving others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:38 – 39) is a great guide for a healthy lifestyle. We love God by getting to know him more each day as we spend time with him, letting our love for him flow through us to love others. How can we “love others as we love ourselves” if we do not even take care of the magnificent gift God has given us in our own bodies?

CoupleSo, as we began with a question, we conclude with another. Given that the lifestyle described above promotes a long and healthy life, we still have to ask, “Why bother?” Let us be honest, eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep when we want to catch that late night TV show all requires discipline. But the Lord's Word tells us that while no discipline is pleasant at the time, later, it brings a harvest.

When we take care of our physical bodies, we free our mind to focus on the important things — heavenly things. We minimize the physical encumbrances that can interfere with our ability to serve others. We honor the Lord by showing that we care about his creation – our physical being, and we provide an example to others to do likewise. The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:11 that the Lord has plans for us. While we do not know the details of his plans, we are expected to be ready to carry them out as they are revealed to us. Let us be ready in all ways, including our physical life, to do just that.


1. D.L. Katz, “Life and death, knowledge and power: why knowing what matters is not what's the matter.” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2009 Aug 10;169(15):1362 – 3.
2. Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones, Second Edition: “9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest.” National Geographic. 2012.
3. Penny Kris-Etherton, et. al., “AHA Science Advisory — Lyon Diet Heart Study — Benefits of a Mediterranean-Style,” National Cholesterol Education Program/American Heart Association Step I Dietary Pattern on Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2001; 103: 1823 – 1825.
4. Sara Arranz, “Beer, Alcohol and Polyphenols on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer.” Nutrients. 2012 July; 4(7): 759 – 781.
5. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. World Health Organization. ISBN 978 92 4 159 997 9 (NLM classification: QT 255), 2010.
6. Scripture taken from The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984.

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