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Some Thoughts on Wellness….

by Jesse Dunfield

Many people are becoming familiar with The Blue Zones, areas of the world

where the inhabitants live long and productive lives, with the best health

outcomes. People in the Blue Zones have never seen the inside of a gym and they

may not know what a chia seed is, but they are thriving, well into their 90’s and

beyond. They are fortunate to be living with low incidents of cancer, heart

disease, metabolic disorders, and Alzheimer’s. And not only are they

experiencing lower incidence of disease, but they are also experiencing less

depression, sleeping better, having more energy, and managing their weight more

effectively. Sign me up you say! What’s interesting is that these Blue Zones,

sometimes used synonymously with the Mediterranean Diet, are actually not all

in the Mediterranean, but are found instead in a variety of locations around the

world. The official Blue Zones are communities in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan;

the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. What

added Loma Linda to the Blue Zone list is that it has a high concentration of

Seventh-Day-Adventists, a religious community that puts health as a tenant

central to their core beliefs. I was raised a Seventh-Day-Adventist, and in fact,

lived in Loma Linda in the early 1990’s. Adventists may stand out, however, as

the exception to the rule when it comes to some of the commonalities shared

with the other Blue Zones. This is probably due to its location as the only Blue

Zone in North America; many Adventists in Loma Linda frequent the gym, for

example, and most have probably heard of chia seeds. But they have a lot more

in common with the other Blue Zones than they have differences. I have not been

to any of the other regions of longevity, and would not presume to speak as an

authority on their cultures. But I do feel comfortable sharing my views on Loma

Linda, since I continue to follow many of the health principles I learned as a child,

even though I haven’t been a Seventh-Day-Adventist for over 30 years. After all,

who doesn’t want to live a long and healthier life – as they say, “don’t throw the

baby out with the bath water.”

If you had asked me when I was 10 if I’d still be practicing the health principles I

grew up with decades later, you would have received a resounding “NO.” My

mother was what I will call a “health enthusiast” but to many of our neighbours,

growing up in the 1970’s, she was seen as something closer to a health fanatic.

I’m assuming what they really thought, of course, but at the very least I could see

a lot of confusion and frustration in their faces when trying to feed me. How

embarrassing to my 10-year-old self to not eat hot dogs or drink colas, to pick off

the peperoni on pizzas, and gag when served a hamburger. But when you don’t grow up eating these things, you don’t like the taste of them, and while my 10

year old self desperately wanted to please, I just couldn’t do it. Friends that came

to my house also had odd reactions – plant-based milk (we did also drink regular

milk), no meat, little processed food, and weird snacks that my friends looked at

with suspicion. We frequented our local health food store, and I can still

remember what 1970’s health food stores smelled like. Not like today, where

they are often indistinguishable with other food retailers. Back then, many of the

items were in bulk and the whole store smelled like freshly threshed grain. I think

some of our neighbours were convinced I was being starved to death.

But these days, I am willing to wager a vegeburger, that many of the same people

that thought we were nuts – we might have been half nut, we did eat a lot of

them – are now exploring the exact same food habits that I grew up with. My

mother, the aforementioned health enthusiast, was simply following many of the

health principles that she grew up with. In fact, it was my mother’s great

grandmother who joined the Seventh-Day-Adventist church, though exactly when

we are not sure. But we do know that she attended the 1888 General Conference

Meeting, on the 25th anniversary of the church’s founding, and at that time there

were only 36,000 Adventists in the entire world. Contrast that with today and

there are currently over 21 million and counting. On my mother’s side, then,

these health principles go way back. Many people are surprised to find out, when

they ask me why I am a vegetarian, that not only was I raised not eating meat, but

I am at least a 5th generation vegetarian, going back to at my great, great,


On a side note, many of the health principles that Adventists follow, came from other sources other than Ellen G White, the self-proclaimed

prophetess that Adventists take all of their “health message” from. Most of it has

been proven to be plagiarized from other writings, and in fact, it’s also been

proven that she didn’t even follow her own health advice. There was a huge

movement in the 19th century towards Health and Wellness and Mrs. White

simply jumped on the bandwagon. I think it is interesting that some of these 19th

century prescriptions for Wellness are thriving today, because Adventists on

average live on average 10 years longer, and in better health, than their

contemporaries. The Adventist Health Study, for example, similar to the more

well-known China Study, is an ongoing research initiative between Loma Linda

University and Harvard, and began in 1958. This study has tracked more than

96,000 Adventists over their lifespan. Findings from this and other Adventist

studies show that Adventists, compared to the general population, have lower

incidents of heart attacks, lower cholesterol, less cancer, less stroke, and much

more. These studies have also vindicated the vegetarian diet, which until these

results started to become known, was often thought to lead to poor health and

malnourishment. 30% of Adventists in North America are vegetarian, another

50% eat meat less than once a month, and 2% are vegan. Adventists have proven

that you can live a long and healthy life without meat. I should point out that

Seventh-Day-Adventists are one of the most diverse churches in the world with a

presence in 220 counties and territories. 20 of the 21 million Adventists live in

the developing world and due to food insecurity do eat meat if it’s available. It is

a privileged position to have food options, and while all Adventist avoid “unclean”

foods – pork, shellfish etc. – the church does not teach that eating meat is

inherently wrong.

It is no wonder then, that I found myself gravitating to health and wellness

coaching - it is in the blood so to speak. I am in my mid 50’s and I think that the

principles I grew up with, now recognized as one of The Blue Zones, has put me in

a unique position to share what I learned as a child. The unique characteristics

associated with Adventists in Loma Linda, as defined in the book, The Blue Zones

Challenge: A Four Week Plan For A Longer, Better, Life, by Dan Butler are as

follows: find sanctuary in time, maintain a healthy body mass index, get regular

moderate exercise, spend time with like-minded friends, snack on nuts, give

something back, avoid meat, drink more water, eat an early, light dinner, and put

more plants in your diet. Many of these guidelines are self-explanatory so it is not

necessary to elaborate on every one of them. There is also a lot of information

about the Blue Zones on line if people are interested. I am not even encouraging

everyone to be vegetarian, though I think it has contributed greatly to my overall

health. I recognize, however, it’s not for everyone nor should it be. I want to

focus on one of the principles that I think is the way forward for Christians (and

non-Christians too!), and it doesn’t even have to do with food.

Seventh-Day Adventists have a high level of social cohesion. It can sometimes

make them very insular and that isn’t always a good thing. But if you join the

Adventist Church, you won’t be lonely if you don’t want to be. I spent every

Saturday afternoon of my childhood (Adventists worship on Saturdays) hanging

out with friends, usually in nature. I still remember my best friend’s mother,

kicking us out of the house, even in the snow, to get our share of fresh air.

Potlucks at church were frequent. There were many other social activities as well.

Because Adventists traditionally didn’t frequent movie theaters, dance, shop on

Saturdays, etc. (though from what I’ve been told, many of these things are

changing), we made our own fun. Adventists look after each other. In a time

when loneliness is on the rise, the studies show that Adventists are not among

them. I have not been in an Adventist Church in 30 years, but I guarantee that I

could walk into any Adventist church in the Anglosphere and be greeted with

open arms. Having attended the Adventist school system growing up, there will

be someone who knows someone that I know. It’s a comforting feeling when

you’re a part of it.

The Center For Disease Control and Prevention says:

· Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death

from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical


· Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of


· Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness)

were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32%

increased risk of stroke.

· Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and


· Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4

times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and

57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8–11:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of

sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a

gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever

speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by

the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified

through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”

As Christians and non-Christians alike, we have a duty to each other to love and

nurture one another. It is no surprise that science is catching up with what

Christians have been practicing since the early Christian church. Being there for

one another leads to a richer life, both spiritually and physically. Adventists of

course don’t have a monopoly on this. But this community solidarity is centered

out as one of their unique strengths among the five Blue Zones, even though all of

the zones have strong social connections. So, there must be something special in

the way that it manifests in Adventists day to day lives. I have in my opinion

many strong reasons to no longer be a Seventh-Day Adventist. The health

principles, however, have never left me. No one is sure whether it was the Jesuits

or Aristotle who said, “give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the

man.” I have benefited from the healthy example that I grew up with and I am

proud of that heritage. These principles have been validated by reputable studies

and are now considered to be one of the best routes to optimal happy, healthy,

longevity. It is my hope that everyone finds the best path for them and maybe

the Blue Zones will serve as inspiration - be it Okinawa, Costa Rica, or Loma Linda.

Everyone deserves the most vibrant health that they can achieve and we’re lucky

to have such tried and true examples to take our inspiration from.


Jesse Dunfield is a Health and Wellness Coach, specializing in wellness as a tool for empowerment.  He is also currently the host of CHCO TV's Focus on Wellness and facilitates mindfulness mediation groups.  When not coaching, Jesse enjoys a cup of earl grey, cooking, and hunting in thrift stores for vintage treasures.


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