HEALTH TO THE BONES

By Stephen Green
First Published in Christian Voice Christmas 2016

Numbers 13:30 And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. 31 But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

A study published in December 2016 showed how staying optimistic and positive enabled people to live longer. The study was reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers looked at health data collected from a large US study of working and retired female nurses. The participants were asked to rate how optimistic they perceived themselves to be on a scale of zero to 24.

Higher optimism was linked with lower death risk, even after controlling for other factors such as whether the woman was married, came from a richer or poorer family background, or had a history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or depression.

A significantly lowered risk was seen for deaths from a number of causes.  These included heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory disease and infection over the course of the study period.

BIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT

The researchers believe optimism may have a biological effect on the body as well as a psychological one, although they didn’t follow that up. Clearly, like all researchers, they need more funding.

One of them, investigator Dr Eric Kim, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said: “Twin studies suggest up to 25% of optimism might be genetic or inherited which would mean up to 75% could be modifiable.”
He suggested strategies people might want to try for an optimism boost:

* Think about what your “best possible self” should look like for key areas of your life such as family, marriage and career. For example, imagine how you would feel in a future work situation if you worked hard and successfully achieved a personal goal.
* Write down three things each day that you are grateful for.
* Keep a log for a fortnight of any kind things you do for other people.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF WORKING

Another report came out on the health of the so-called baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964.  Professor Dame Sally Davies said the physical and mental health benefits of being employed or volunteering “should not be underestimated”. She said working helps people feel fulfilled and less isolated. Prof Davies said: “People are living longer than ever and so retirement presents a real opportunity for baby boomers to be more active than ever before.

“For many people it is a chance to take on new challenges – it is certainly not the start of a slower pace of life it once was.
“Staying in work, volunteering or joining a community group can make sure people stay physically and mentally active for longer.
“The health benefits of this should not be underestimated.”

MARRIAGE RAISES HAPPINESS

Yet another study, this time by the London School of Economics, found that good mental health and having a partner make people happier than doubling their income.

Suffering from depression or anxiety hit individuals hardest.  Conversely, being in a relationship saw the biggest increase in their happiness.

On a scale of one to 10, the doubling of someone’s pay saw their happiness rise by less than 0.2. However, having a partner saw happiness rise by 0.6.  Llosing a partner by separation or death saw the same impact downwards.

CREATED FOR FELLOWSHIP

It is quite remarkable how close these suggestions are to the Biblical model for living a fulfilled life.

Working backwards, as it were:

Gen 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

There are people called to be single, but in the main, being alone is not good for either man or woman. Some argue the fellowship of marriage and family mirrors the fellowship of the Trinity. Equally, God’s pattern for fellowship with mankind was illustrated in the Garden. God walked with Adam and Eve. Sin separated us from fellowship with God, and Christ restored it. So not just fellowship with one another, but fellowship with God is going to lead to a rise in anyone’s ‘index of happiness’.

MADE TO WORK AND CREATE

As to work, and keeping at it, it was Caleb, with whom we opened, who said at the age of eighty-five (in Josh 14:11) that he was as fit for work and war as he was at the age of forty. And it was the Lord himself who took the man he created and gave him work in the Garden. We never read that Adam ‘retired’.

Indeed, God is a Creator, and we are made in his image. It follows that the moment we stop being creative is the moment we mar his image.  Becoming idle sets yourself on a downward spiral.  If you feel at a loose end and feel you should volunteer with Christian Voice, just let me know.

OUR HOPE AND OUR CONFIDENCE

Finally, on to optimism and staying positive. It should go without saying that Christians should be the most optimistic people on earth. After all, we have a living hope, not in the world’s sense but in total confidence in our salvation through Christ. The Psalmist puts it like this:

Psalm 52:8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

In the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in the midst of all their troubles, the Lord showed him this:

Lam 3:26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

Nor is it a vain, silly hope, but one maintained in the cold and sober light of day:

1Thess 5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

As to being positive, the fact that there are secular self-help books on‘positive thinking’ does not mean the concept itself is not Biblical. There is scarcely a more positive verse than this from Romans:

Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

LIFE AND DEATH IN POWER OF THE TONGUE

It is going to work out well. Moreover, the Bible teaches that we can really can speak good things into being:

Prov 18:20 A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled. 21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

These further verses from the book of Proverbs confirm the American Journal of Epidemiology’s association of staying optimistic and positive with good health:

Prov 12:18 There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.
16:24 Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.
17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

GRATITUDE

I haven’t even mentioned Dr Kim’s suggestion of writing down things each day for which to be grateful.  So let us put that right, reminding ourselves of just a few instances in which the Bible tells us to be grateful to God:

Psalm 107:1 O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Lam 3:22 It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
Col 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Tim 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

I wish there were space to bring out more scriptures on this wonderful subject in all its facets.  Nevertheless, I hope and pray these few will raise your confidence in the word of God.  Firstly, Scripture is daily being confirmed by science.  Secondly, the people of the Lord Jesus Christ – that’s us – can by walking in his ways be the happiest, most joyful and most healthy bunch on the planet.

Accentuate the positive

And please do not forget, if life and death are in the power of the tongue, you must never speak negative things to yourself about your abilities or prospects. It is equally possible to bless yourself and curse yourself. Let us stay on the right side of that line, just as Caleb and Joshua did. This is why. You can say it was their faith, or it was this or that, but the fact remains that the ten spies who said they could not enter Canaan didn’t.

The two who said they could did.

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