If you think that you have to live up a mountain somewhere remote herding goats and growing crops all day in order to live a long and healthy life, the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda in California may prove you wrong. Adventists enjoy low rates of degenerative disease and high life expectancy, are often known to act much younger than they are even when they are 90 or 100, and are less likely to be on medication or visit a hospital than their non-Adventist counterparts. Around 9,000 Adventists live in Loma Linda in San Bernadino, which has made the town a recognized Longevity Hot Spot, despite the fact that it’s modern, it’s in the US, and it’s even quite polluted, being in a valley downwind from Los Angeles.
The Adventists’ marked good health has made them a subject of interest for epidemiologists since they have provided a good opportunity to study the impact of diet and lifestyle choices on health and longevity. When 34,000 Adventists enrolled in a 12-year study on diet and lifestyle and whether it can prevent illness, the results, released in 1985, created a flurry of interest amongst the media and made even committed carnivores pause for thought before tucking into the next steak.
It was found that Adventist men could expect to live 7.3 years longer than other Californian men, whilst Adventist vegetarian men could expect to live to 83.3, which is an envy-inducing 9.5 years longer. Adventist women were likely to live 4.4 years longer than other Californian women, and Adventist vegetarian women 6.1 years longer, with a likelihood of reaching a ripe old 85.7. These average statistics also mean, of course, that there are plenty of energetic nonogenarians and centenarians striding about Loma Linda, attending to their daily activities with enthusiastic purposefulness.
So what is the secret of the Adventists’ longevity? No scientist in their right mind could claim it is all in their genes. Nor is their good health a mere accident: the Adventist doctrine is that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that maintaining a clear head and good physical health are necessary in order to stay connected to God. Adventists achieve their good health consciously, and in Loma Linda you don’t have to look hard to find a health food shop full organic produce, a vegetarian restaurant, or a gym.
Adventists espouse a vegetable-based diet, with around 35 percent being vegetarian and around one half eating meat only rarely. Tobacco and alcohol consumption are discouraged, as are rich or spicy foods, coffee, caffeinated fizzy drinks, and ‘unclean’ foods such as pork and shellfish. The ideal Adventist diet is high in fruit and vegetables and includes plenty of whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, with water being the drink of choice.
The Adventist study was large enough to provide some information about particular foods and their link with health or disease. Tomatoes eaten three to four times weekly appeared to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women by 70 percent and also reduced prostate cancer risk for men. Eating more legumes appeared to reduce colon cancer risk by 30 to 40 percent, whilst eating meat increased the risk of colon cancer by 65 percent and ovarian cancer by 65 percent. The study also suggested a strong link between water intake and health, with men drinking five or six glasses daily having 60 to 70 percent less risk of fatal heart attack. Soft drinks and coffee, conversely, increased the risk.
Adventists also believe in having plenty of regular exercise, helping others, maintaining strong social and familial ties, worshipping God, and observing the Sabbath. They are blessed with a mild climate with warm summers and cool winters; the air quality however is not as good as in other Longevity Hot Spots. This should give us all hope, however, since it illustrates that you don’t have to have every single factor in place in order to achieve excellent health.
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