More than a decade ago, Thomas F. Rogers, a friend of mine and a former professor at Brigham Young University, wrote an essay about the benefits of being a Latter-day Saint.
“An unbelieving former member tells me that he still considers the church ‘the most comprehensive social benefit program’ he has ever encountered. I agree,” Rogers wrote in an essay published in the book “Why I Stay” .
“For example,” he continued, “what has not the word of wisdom alone contributed to my personal well-being?”
This passage came to my mind recently with the news that President Russell M. Nelson, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is now the church’s oldest prophet in its 192-year history.
He will turn 98 in September.
I’ve never been one for biography, no matter what the subject, but I can’t stop to admire President Nelson’s long life and good health. He is just 97 and then nothing. By all accounts, he is in the office regularly. He is preaching. He is active and full of zest for life.
It may be that in the future it will become common to see non-age people who are not only healthy and loving their final years but who also seem to age against. But, to date, this is still a rare occurrence. And one worth learning from.
What can we attribute to such longevity? Certainly, genetics should play a role. But, as I understand from President Nelson’s biographies and anecdotes from fellow church employees (disclosure: I write for the church), healthy eating and regular exercise have been a frequent part of President Nelson’s life. Heart surgeons often tell church members to “take your vitamin pills.” Get some rest,” because the future is “going to be exciting.”
President Nelson’s habits were undoubtedly influenced by the many patients (my maternal grandfather included) whose, shall we say, less-than-optimal health practices often brought him into his steady surgical hands. I also can’t help but see a place for revelation in aiding the prophet’s healthy lifestyle.
It is well known that Latter-day Saints have a health code known as the Word of Wisdom, which derives from scripture ascribed to Joseph Smith in 1833. This is why the practice of Latter-day Saints calls for no alcohol, caffeinated tea, coffee. tobacco or any other intoxicant. And, when properly received, the Word of Wisdom is also the reason why many Latter-day Saints say yes to good things—fruits, vegetables, and grains. And the meat, said in Revelation, should be eaten “with moderation.”
That’s not to say that all or even most of us live up to this lofty standard (see the long lines outside Utah’s abundant “Dirty Soda” drive-thru shops, for example).
With regard to exercise, the Church’s Code of Health was revealed in 1833 when the concept of “treadmills” or “ellipticals” would have entertained puzzling. But still the Scriptures say that those who follow these principles “will run and not be weary, and will walk and not faint.” The Church of Jesus Christ is also built on the concept of ongoing revelation. Perhaps someday some statement will be substantiated that includes descriptions of the best weightlifting routines, but, in the meantime, common sense and the best of science give us plenty of information about the benefits of an active life.
Halfway through my missionary service in eastern Ukraine in 2004, the Church of Jesus Christ implemented a new program for missionaries that strongly encouraged daily morning exercise.
I was pathetic in following the guidance.
But the program planted a seed that began to bear real fruit four years ago. I was approaching my mid-30s, my metabolism was slowing down, and I started “growing out” all my pants. Thanks to the unexpected gift of a simple stair stepper from a colleague at work, I started exercising. This progressed to moderate jogging and lifting. I also adjusted my diet. I felt better.
Within six months I lost 25 pounds. I’ve maintained this routine and learned a lot about the potential for perseverance and the refreshing rush of a full workout.
There is also the practice of monthly fasting, during which the Latter-day Saints abstain from eating for 24 hours or more. Many studies have found that fasting helps reduce the various risks associated with heart disease, but I have found that fasting only builds the ability to properly manage physical hunger beyond a 24-hour period, which During fasting.
From a secular perspective, it’s easy to point to a two-decade-long UCLA study of Latter-day Saints, which found that church-attended followers had longer lives than others (five years for women and one for men). full decade). Population groups studied. There are also findings from doctors at Intermountain Health about heart health benefits to 24-hour fasting practices.
But the promises of scripture for believers to care for one’s body are tempting.
“And all the saints who remember to obey these things and do them, they keep the commandments, they will be healthy in their navel, and will melt in their bones; and they will be a great storehouse of wisdom and knowledge, will find hidden treasures.” And, Scripture goes on, “they will run and not get tired, and walk and not faint; And I, Jehovah, will make a promise to them that the angel of destruction will pass by them.”
Granted, life doesn’t always carry a lifespan of 90 years. We all know someone who has lived well but has become seriously ill or died “too soon”. Genetics and disease eventually take hold of us all. We have also seen cigarette smokers who somehow avoid obstacles and live longer than expected.
I was struck a few years ago when a 109-year-old woman in Texas said that the secret to her long life was eating bacon every day.
Sometimes rare exceptions stay in our mind because they are so unusual. But the general rule is actually a “rule” for a reason: God expects us to take responsibility for our bodies, and there are benefits to doing so.
At the age of 97, as president of the oldest church in history, President Nelson has come to embody the Word of Wisdom. And with each passing year, he seems more and more like a pretty good example to follow.
Samuel B. Hislop is a writer in Utah.