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Church involvement can lead to better health

There's more to living a long and high-quality life than just healthy eating and exercise.

According to research, regular attendance at one's church can be a factor in attaining a better life.

Researchers suggest that people who are actively religious tend to take better care of themselves, which may account for their longevity status.

According to the recent Blue Zones research, which identified regions of the world where longevity and better health exist, people who attend faith-based services four times a month typically add between four and 14 years of life expectancy to their lives.

Some reasons may be the social aspects associated with attending church services, as well as a tendency of church goers to avoid such things as excessive drinking, smoking or other unhealthy activities, according to research.

Local pastors don't disagree that regular attendees seem to fare well with their health.

Ken Mettler, pastor of Solid Rock Fellowship in New Richmond, said his 14 years of ministry in Appalachia proved the idea to him.

"We found many people who lived in homes with several kids, a pot-bellied stove, one bedroom, one or two light bulbs and a TV in their small house," he recalled. "There was a lot of alcoholism and depression. Good personal grooming was rare, even when I would pick them up for church in the church bus."

When families put their faith in Christ, Mettler said, their attitude became cheerful and they began to clean up, smell and look a lot better.

"These people believed that they were saved from their bad habits," he said. "I believe it is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that makes the difference in people's lives."

Locally, Mettler said church involvement provides people with a way to connect with others, while also providing a blueprint for living a long and healthy life.

"All of our church programs are designed to bring people together," he explained. "Special times of praying for each other and their concerns is probably one of the most bonding times in our fellowship."

Jim Bump, pastor of First Lutheran Church in New Richmond, said Jesus taught his followers to care for their own bodies and to care for the people around them.

That sense of purpose that Christianity promotes, Bump said, gives people the motivation they need to follow through with action.

"People tend to see that the purpose for which they live depends, in part, on their own personal care," he explained. "If we are not healthy, if our own wellbeing is neglected, we are less likely to be able to love and help others."

Churches work well when members connect with others and meet the needs that arise. Such efforts enhance the lives of those receiving the care, as well as those who help others, Bump said.

"People become most alive when they are involved in service to others, living for a greater purpose than themselves," he said.

Churches also promote healthy relationships with others by offering Bible studies, Sunday school classes and other programs to help individuals grow spiritually and connect with others. Such efforts meet the needs of a person's body and soul, he said.

First Lutheran also tries to help the community to connect by partnering with local congregations to offer a free meal on Wednesdays.

"A common misunderstanding is that these meals are for the homeless," Bump said. "They are for anyone for the sake of simply eating together and strengthening community."

Bump noted that research also shows that prayer and meditation can play a major role in a person's wellbeing.

"By teaching and fostering meditation, we can love and forgive as God calls us to, and find personal wellbeing in the process," he said.