The first thing Jack and his wife did after leaving my office was to go to their church and put Jack’s name on the prayer list. Jack knew he could not handle the diagnosis of leukemia and the chemotherapy without the support of his church family. He had already learned too much today and more was coming tomorrow, when Jack was to be admitted to the hospital for three to four weeks (“minimum”) of intensive treatment. Jack also knew he might not come out of the hospital alive. Therefore Jack and his wife would need all the resources their church could provide beginning with prayer: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5: 14).

Jack and his wife also counted on their church to provide physical and emotional support during this life-threatening crisis. He put his name on the “Help List.” They had developed a real closeness with the church over the years and knew the congregation would not let them down. “Where else could we call to get the kids to school in the morning, prepare some dinners for them while I’m at the hospital with Jack in the evenings, and stay nights with the kids in case Jack needs me?” asked his wife. Jack, who was getting more upset as the conversation continued, blurted out, “everything’ll be fine because I’m in the Blue Zone!”

What was that?

Jack and his wife said they had been trying to live the Blue Zone lifestyle. The Blue Zone is a term developed at National Geographic to describe communities around the globe they studied with populations that lived the longest. The Blue Zones received their name from the blue pen used to draw circles on a map identifying the areas. The National Geographic investigators found nine characteristics that added up to 14 years of life expectancy in such locales as Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California. What began as an expedition to discover what contributed to long life in certain populations around the world has turned into a recipe for longevity being promulgated across the United States.

Although healthier living and medical advances have pushed life expectancy to 79 years in the United States, National Geographic found some populations live much longer.

In addition to eating a healthy Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, healthy fats, and fish and seafood), there were other key habits and values embraced by these communities that contributed to this longevity. One major contributing factor was that individuals in Blue Zones belonged to faith-based communities characterized by consistent participation in services four times a month.

How does belonging to a faith-based community promote wellness and longevity? According to National Geographic investigators, all the faith communities provided the following: a social network to connect and shed stress: an opportunity to shift the pace of life, the development of a sense of purpose and the adoption of other habits that promote well-being.

All these faith-based communities are based on Biblical principles such as “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “Do not confirm any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22-23) and “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 3:2). All these precepts are from letters in the New Testament that stress righteous living as well as righteous believing.

The next day the church secretary phoned Jack to tell him that several in the congregation had already signed up to pray for him and to help out. “And,” she asked Jack,” what should I do with the chicken casserole that’s been brought in for your family and left on the counter in the church office?”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case, Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, writer and director, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.


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