By Mark A. Taylor
Readers of a certain age can’t resist a bold, red headline that says, “Live Longer!” And when the caption below it promises “50 Proven Ways to Add Years to Your Life,” an almost-retired guy like me knows he wants to know more.
You could probably guess several of the live-longer tips offered by the March 2017 AARP Bulletin: get your sleep, drink water, eat whole grains, exercise. But some of it is less intuitive: get rid of throw rugs (they cause falls), find a woman doctor (statistically their patients have better results), watch your grandkids (regular babysitting can lower your risk of dying by a third).
Some of the advice has special implications for the church, like “Number 27: Embrace your faith.” Attending church worship services at least once per week can add between four and 14 years to life expectancy, according to this tip. The Bulletin tells its hundreds of thousands of readers without a church to ask a friend if they can attend theirs. I’m glad I attend a congregation with a service they’d enjoy. But I wonder how many congregations work to make their “traditional” worship a hub for evangelism.
“Number 32: Get social” fits right in here. “Loneliness increases the risk of early death by 45 percent,” says the Bulletin. But “people with close ties to friends and family have as much as a 50 percent lower risk of dying.” This means get-togethers, service projects, Sunday school classes, and Bible studies for seniors serve an emotional and physical benefit as well as a spiritual boost. And what better place for finding friends than the local church?
I say all of the above, though, simply as a prelude to the advice here that may be the most overlooked. “Number 37: You need to read.” “As little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said Yale epidemiology professor Becca R. Levy, who did a study on the subject.
The Bulletin didn’t say why this was so, but some observations by Will Schwalbe in the November 26-27, 2016 Wall Street Journal give a clue. The author contends that many in our culture are too busy, living at a pace too frantic, to make time for introspection and insight. “Reading is the best way I know to learn how to examine your life,” he asserts. “Reading is one of the few things you do alone that can make you feel less alone.”
There you have it, one cure for the loneliness that can kill.
But Will Schwalbe’s piece made me think about much more than helping myself and my over-60 friends live longer. I’m thinking about the reading habits—or lack thereof—among a crowd much younger: the senior ministers of too many churches today. How would the perspective and insight that comes from wide reading enrich their preaching, broaden their ability to relate to non-Christians, and deepen their understanding of the problems people bring to their office?
That’s the subject for another column. But you and I have spent enough time thinking about this today. Let’s shut down our computers and go read a book.