A Lifestyle Medicine Summit, held last weekend in Wahroonga (Sydney), was all about empowering Seventh-day Adventists to bring health, healing and hope to their communities.
Lifestyle medicine is growing in popularity and the inaugural summit explored what opportunities exist for the Church in this field. Organised by Adventist Health, a department of the South Pacific Division (SPD), it brought together about 270 church leaders, institutional leaders, health professionals, church members, educators and students from across the Pacific.
Presentations included current research on topics like sleep and health, physical exercise, mental health and coping with stress. On Sabbath afternoon there was a special focus on brain health and how lifestyle plays a vital role. Australasian Research Institute CEO Dr Ross Grant discussed how simple, everyday choices can affect the brain’s prefrontal cortex, while clinical psychologist Deanna Pitchford presented on the impact of pornography on the brain.
Keynote presenters were Harvard University Professor of Public Health, Dr David Williams, and Dr Wayne Dysinger, Associate Professor, School of Medicine at Loma Linda University, and chair of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine.
Dr Williams shared the latest scientific research on the links between spirituality and health, with religious people found to be less likely to adopt high risk behaviours such as binge drinking and smoking, and more likely to make healthier choices, including getting regular exercise and adequate sleep. Religious involvement also helped people from becoming socially isolated, with research showing that social disconnection is actually as bad as smoking for a person’s well being.
“And that’s why God created the church,” Dr Williams said. “He created the church to provide us with an expanded family, with friends and a convoy of support across a life course . . . one of the things we need to do as part of comprehensive ministry is to become supportive, close-knit villages that enhance the mental health and emotional wellbeing of everyone.
“How we relate to others matters and comprehensive health ministry, following the example of Jesus, means that as Seventh-day Adventists we should be known for being welcoming and accepting of all God’s children, regardless of who they are, and consistently demonstrating love and caring and kindness whether we see that person as lovely or unlovely, as like us or not like us, as deserving or not deserving. That’s what comprehensive health ministry is about, first and foremost about loving people.”
Dr Dysinger shared his personal journey into the field of lifestyle medicine. He also provided some practical ideas on how Adventists can embrace lifestyle medicine and share it with their communities.
“I think one of the biggest challenges of lifestyle medicine is the fact that we can get people to change their lifestyles through programs like CHIP, but we need them to keep that change in their lifestyles,” Dr Dysinger said.
“I think every church could develop a support group. It’s like a prayer meeting but it’s where people come together and they just talk about how they are doing as far as their lifestyle change.”
Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing CEO Kevin Jackson and Sydney Adventist Hospital CEO Brett Goods were among the other presenters. Also featured were Adventist healthy lifestyle initiatives that are already making a difference in their communities , including the SEEDS Lifestyle Health Clinic in Newcastle (NSW) and the Manna Haven café at Byron Bay.
Adventist Health director Dr Chester Kuma presented on the 10,000 Toes campaign, which is aimed at preventing and reversing Type 2 diabetes across the South Pacific. About 2 million people in the region have been diagnosed with the lifestyle disease.
“We live in a broken region,” Dr Kuma said. “We live in a region that is struggling to find solutions to the problem of lifestyle disease.” In the midst of crisis, however, “there is an opportunity to make a difference”.
Division health strategy consultant Geraldine Przybylko explained how the Church’s message of whole-person health is now being expressed through a “7 Dimensions of Wellness” framework. Resources will be developed in each of the seven dimensions to help church members and the community in their wellness journeys.
Mrs Przybylko introduced ELIA Wellness—a “digital ecosystem” based on the seven dimensions. It includes a website and an app—with the app designed to “become somebody’s wellness partner in their pocket”, according to digital marketing specialist Jared Madden, who has been working with Mrs Przybylko on the concept. The aim is to provide innovative and credible resources that promote the Church’s health message in an appealing way to the community.
Key to the success of the strategy is collaboration between all individuals and entities in the Church, Mrs Przybylko stressed. “That’s where the power happens.”
As the summit came to a close, SPD president Pastor Glenn Townend issued a challenge to the attendees: what are they going to do differently—personally and with others—as a result of the lifestyle summit?
“We are doing this because we believe that change can happen . . . and you can choose to be a part of this great Adventist movement, which is really a health movement,” he said.
“We can change the world one life at a time, one group at a time, and that’s why we have run this Lifestyle Medicine Summit . . . you and I have been called and I think we are hearing some of the direction that God is calling us to, and He will provide and we will support each other.”