Wednesday, February 12, 2014
The Physical Health of Pastors
It isn't exactly a well-kept secret anymore, not since a number of publications have starting writing about this, but ministry is hardly a healthy profession.
And not just in terms of spiritual health, either--although the spiritual harms that afflict pastors, such as loneliness and overworking, are well-documented.
In terms of physical health, we pastors are pretty darn unhealthy. A lot of our workweek is spent behind a desk, in a book, in front of a computer, or across the table or bedside of another person. And considering how just about every pastor I know is predisposed to inhale--or at least graze on--any free food made available to them, you get an instant recipe for unhealthiness.
And that includes me. I'd like to say that I have managed to maintain my health since leaving college (and the accompanying freshman 15 that never really left), but I haven't. While my overall cardiovascular fitness remains decent (my resting pulse rate is generally in the high 60's, and I will often go for 15-20K on the exercise bike at a time), I am rapidly learning that my blood pressure is not.
Now, part of that is family history--hypertension and high cholesterol are in my genes, and so I had already made several lifestyle and diet changes many moons ago, cutting out grains that weren't high-fiber or whole-grain as well as egg yolks, regular fat cheeses, and almost all beer (I'll have a beer once a week now at most). And while I am a devoted carnivore, I now almost never cook with animal proteins at home anymore, choosing instead to get my protein from lowfat milk and cheese.
But when I started experiencing eye floaters this past week, I was advised to get my blood pressure checked because some of the most sensitive blood vessels in the body are in the eyes (being engaged to a doctor is a really good thing). I did get it checked, and low and behold, compared to when I got it checked last year (and it in at my usual 120/80), my blood pressure weighed in this week at a whopping 130/90, which potentially qualifies as prehypertension (in order to know for sure, I'm scheduling an appointment with my actual doctor--the one I'm not engaged to =) ).
And I'm only 28 years old.
I'm writing openly about all of this for a couple of reasons. One is that it simply is cathartic for me to do so, for me to be able to get some of my worries out in the open so that I don't feel like I am hiding them or that I should be ashamed of them. I have always had a voracious appetite, and controlling it has been one of the defining tasks of my twenties. I think my being open about it may help me in doing so, and perhaps it might even help you, or help someone else, in doing so.
The other is to try to put another interpretation on the statistics I linked to at the top of this post. I think for a lot of people, anecdotes--a personal face--on something can be as or more effective than a recitation of numbers. So if you need a flesh-and-blood example of a minister working to reverse the unhealthiness in his diet, I am that flesh-and-blood example.
And to be honest, I didn't think I would be. To me, things like hypertension belonged to people in way worse health than me, not to someone like me who is young and active.
But we do not live in a healthy world. And I am learning that I am more vulnerable to that world than I originally thought I was.
It's important, in an unhealthy world, to be deliberate about taking care of yourself. And since our bodies were knitted by God, it's theologically appropriate for us to be deliberate about it.
So if I ask your help in trying to keep myself accountable to my own health and to God, please be open to doing so. Or if you want to, please say so. I will not be offended.
And likewise, extend the same consideration to your own body...your God-given, God-made, God-knitted, wonderful, fragile, imago dei.
The body is made in God's image. I am learning all over again to treat mine as such.
Yours in Christ,