Prevention of Common Diseases


Prevent diseases with vaccinations

The annual influenza (the FLU) vaccination protects many pastors against a very serious threat. Influenza remains especially dangerous and life-threatening to adults over 60 years of age. Since pastors meet and interact with 50-100 times more individuals than the average secular individual, they remain extremely susceptible to influenza. If you fail to obtain a FLU vaccination, you may escape the FLU during any single year. Without an annual FLU vaccination, very few ministers escape the FLU over the long term. Prevent influenza with a simple yearly vaccination. Other than your health, the FLU will certainly affect your ability to prepare sermons and serve others in your community. By protecting yourself, you protect your ministry and calling.

Many doctors and communities offer a free vaccination for those over sixty years of age. Pneumonia is also common and often fatal to older adults. A single vaccination offers long-term protection. A tetanus vaccination also protects against a common and often fatal disease. Consider getting a booster vaccination every ten years. Also, ask your doctor about getting a vaccination for shingles.

Due to the high stress of ministry, pastors seem at higher risk than most secular individuals for the following diseases:

  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression and burnout
  • Diabetes

Preventing cancer

Cancer prevention is generally based on early detection and prevention. For many cancers, the most proven measure of prevention requires early detection by physical exam, PAP smears, a colonoscopy, and PSA testing. Other than early detection, carefully follow your physician’s recommendations, especially about preventing breast cancer. Many forms of cancer remain preventable by maintaining a body mass index under 27. Colon cancer remains almost entirely preventable with a high-fiber, low sugar diet.

Preventing heart disease

A high level of HDL cholesterol provides a protective effect against heart disease. HDL cholesterol is commonly called the “good cholesterol.”  Exercise and/or medication provide potential interventions for those with a low HDL level. Hypertension, commonly called “high-blood pressure” provides a second primary risk factor. Talk to your physician about hypertension and especially about Isolated Systolic Hypertension (indicated when the upper blood pressure number is above 140mmHg). Inexpensive diuretics usually provide an effective treatment for hypertension. Daily exercise, medication, and a low salt diet seem to prevent hypertension. Syndrome X constitutes a third primary risk factor. Syndrome X represents a family of risky behaviors including obesity, a tendency toward diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood fats. However, diet and exercise almost totally prevent Syndrome X. Thus, simple changes in diet, exercise, and the use of relatively low-cost diuretics prevent all of the above primary risk factors.

Preventing stroke

Prevent stroke by preventing high blood pressure. Also consult your physician about the best way to prevent a stroke based on your family history.

Preventing osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common risk factor as each minister ages, especially common among thin and small-boned Caucasian women. However, osteoporosis also occurs with other females and males as they age. As bones become increasingly thinner, they eventually break. When this happens in the spinal column, serious complications can result. During a fall, when a hip fractures, the individual often tries to break the fall with his or her hand, causing a wrist fracture. Thus, multiple fractures can result. In addition to early detection through screening, prevention measures include hormone replacement therapy for females, calcium dietary supplements, and daily exercise. Ask your doctor about taking a daily calcium supplement.

For most individuals, exercise seems preferable to medication, and should almost always be implemented even with medication. Weight lifting exercise seems to help prevent bone loss, and also  increases bone density.

Preventing diabetes

Please see for information on preventing diabetes.

Preventing depression and burnout

Depression is much more common among ministers than in the secular population. Many factors cause depression, but Dr. Steve Ilardi, a psychologist with the University of Kansas, found six specific lifestyles that seem to prevent depression. However, these six lifestyles seem increasingly difficult in modern society. Over the past thirty years, the depression rate has increased ten-fold. Dr. Steve Ilardi notes that the six lifestyles not only help prevent depression, but these same lifestyles also help stimulate recovery from depression (Ilardi, Karwoski, Lehman, Stites, and Steidtmann, 2007):

  1. Omega-3. Mounting evidence points to a strong link between the decrease in omega-3 fatty acid consumption and increased rates of depression (Hibbeln and Salem, 1999). Although the modern North American diet now has a 16:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, a 1:1 ratio seems to help prevent depression (Nemets, Stahl, & Belmaker, 2002; Peet & Horrobin, 2002; Nemets et. al., 2006). Generally, a 1000 mg daily omega-3 supplement returns the ratio close to 1:1. At the time of this writing, an economical source is Omega-3 Mood Formula by Vitacost. Dr. Ilardi notes the need for omega-3 fatty acids: “Dietary omega-3 fatty acids are key building blocks of brain tissue that can only be obtained from diet (the body can’t make them), and dietary omega-3 deficiency is an enormously important risk factor for depression.  Most Americans are deficient, but those who are depressed have much lower blood/brain levels than the rest of us.  By far the most effective way of ensuring adequate intake is to use a good fish oil supplement to obtain a daily dose of 1000mg of the omega-3 molecule called EPA.  It should also be a molecularly distilled supplement to ensure minimal exposure to mercury/heavy metal toxins that are potentially present in fish oil.”
  2. Sunlight. Many ministers spend most of their daylight hours indoors either at school or in an office environment. Direct sunlight provides about 10,000 lumens—generally 50-100 times brighter than indoor light. Exposure to at least thirty minutes of bright sunlight every day stimulates the brain to produce brain-healthy chemicals. Even when outdoors, many individuals fail to obtain enough direct sunlight due to their climate or due to significant air pollution. Kuller (2002), Rosenthal (1993), Kripke (1998), and Tuunainen, Kripke, & Enco (2004) find that exposure to as little as 30 minutes of light from a 10,000 lux light-box protects against depression. These light-boxes may be purchased through the Internet for as little as $160. Some individuals bound to desk jobs use the light-box as an area light next to their computer.
  3. Sleep. Humankind was designed to sleep at night. However, modern society provides artificial light that enables us to stay up until 10 or 11 PM each night. The average North American sleeps only 6.8 hours nightly (National Sleep Foundation, 2005). Morawetz (2003) found evidence that 8-9 hours of sleep is needed to protect against depression. Eugene Peterson (1987, 66-74) notes that the biblical Sabbath begins daily at sundown, not at sunrise. Eugene Peterson notes that Sabbath occurs every day. Thus, each day begins with a Sabbath rest at sundown, and then concludes as “we wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action (Ibid., 68).” When we neglect to start each day with adequate rest, we violate one of the Ten Commandments and inhibit our ability to fully participate in God’s creative action. Arguably, God’s Sabbath commandment provides as much physical health as spiritual health.
  4. Aerobic exercise. Prehistoric man experienced 2-3 hours of daily exercise, often traveling up to 10 miles per day (Cordain, Gotshall, Eaton & Eaton, 1998). Over the past 50 years, North Americans increasingly work at sedentary jobs. Stephens (1988), and Ross and Hayes (1988) found evidence that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise helps to prevent depression by influencing the amount of serotonin produced within the brain. As little as 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise has been found to be as effective as Zoloft in treating depression, and with a lower relapse rate (Blumenthal et al., 1999, 2001).
  5. Interdependent social interaction. Some individuals find deep interpersonal relationships difficult due to physical and cultural isolation. Expatriates, upon re-entry back to the States, sometimes retain the same meager social relationship style that they used overseas. However, deep interpersonal relationships help to prevent depression (Elkin et al, 1989; de Mello, de Jesus, Bacaltchuk, Verdeli & Neugebauer, 2005). Dr. Ilardi notes, “We’re hard-wired to crave social support in the form of visual interaction each day with people who care about us; i.e., we need face time with friends and loved ones.”
  6. Anti-ruminative activities. When individuals ruminate about a negative thought or event, they grow susceptible to depression (Just & Alloy, 1997; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). Even the common act of watching television promotes rumination (Cropley & Purvis, 2003). Since the average North American spends about 30 hours per week watching television, the average North American may easily spend more time engaging in ruminative thoughts than individuals from countries in which television remains unavailable. Those who employ alternative consuming activities, such as getting totally absorbed in a hobby or physical sport, tend to prevent depression (Dimidjian et al, 2006; Wells & Papageorgiou, 2003). Whenever one finds himself or herself engaging in negative rumination, they can replace those thoughts with an alternative totally engaging activity, such as a hobby or a sport. Meditative prayer provides the most effective protection against negative rumination. In this form of prayer, the individual ceases to bring his or her personal problems (ruminative thoughts and “to do” lists) to God, but simply spends focused time worshipping and being with God. One cannot ruminate on personal problems when he or she focuses fully on the creator. The “thankfulness” exercise also reduces negative rumination.

Rebound From Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers provides the most comprehensive prevention and intervention skills available to address depression and burnout for ministers. Just click on the book cover below to order a copy of this book, available at

Rebound from Burnout

Preventing Suicide

In Japan where I grew up, society exalts suicide as an honorable act. Most Christians, however, condemn it as a sin.

Suicide remains almost impossible to predict, although it is highly related to age, drug and alcohol use, depression, bipolar disorder, crisis, and the availability of guns. In North America, the suicide rate remains at 1% of all deaths. Among pastors, the rate of attempts is probably lower due to moral teachings against suicide. However, the rate of suicidal thoughts is probably much higher due to a higher rate of depression. So suicidal thoughts and tendencies remain a very serious problem among some pastors and their children.

The following highlighted link lists five ways to prevent suicide in your family and in your church.

© 2013 Nathan Davis


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