Q:I see all kinds of people sick and dying from COVID-19, no matter what we do to try to prevent its spread. But it seems that Adventists respond just by saying stuff to make their “ridiculous health message” seem relevant.
A:We pray that our response will be useful for anyone who may have similar queries or who would like to have objective affirmation of their belief.
Humans are continuously learning, and the yardsticks used to measure what constitutes sound health practices change to accommodate new knowledge. The Adventist health message, as preached in the early years, was accepted, not through appeals to science, but rather to intelligent trust that both the message and the messenger were inspired by God.
While Adventists have compared favorably to others in North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australasia regarding their health message, we know of no study directly comparing Adventists to others concerning COVID-19. We further acknowledge the ethical and practical difficulties in conducting such research. Nonetheless, some benefits have already been shown.
For instance, spiritual “groundedness” correlates well with resiliency. Adequate, restful sleep confers health advantages across the board. Appropriate hydration, likewise, is intuitively generally helpful. Robust social networks have salutary effects in a wide variety of life challenges. And, of course, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other noxious substances has not shown benefit to health or life under any circumstances. But what does modern science say about diet, exercise, and sunshine in the context of COVID-19?
Independent researchers have specifically found during this COVID-19 pandemic that:
Diet matters. In six countries plant-based or pescatarian diets were associated with lower risk of moderate to severe COVID-19 and may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19.1 We recommend a balanced plant-based diet as the eating pattern of choice as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise makes a difference. Regular exercise strongly correlated with lower severe COVID-19 risk among infected adults.2 We recommend this as part of one’s regular lifestyle.
Sunlight exposure has a beneficial effect. Sunnier areas are associated with fewer deaths from COVID-19.3 Sunshine exposure limits the spread of COVID-19 by making the virus unstable in the aerosols (from sneezing/coughing) and may also help to inactivate virus particles in the environment.4 Additionally, sunlight exposure, latitude, and vitamin D status are linked to COVID-19 incidence, fatality, and recovery rates. We caution against overexposure to sunlight because of potential health effects on the skin, eyes, and immune system. We advocate prudent, appropriate exposure and vitamin D supplementation if blood levels are not adequate and sun exposure is not feasible.
We encourage you to prayerfully adopt the health message as one of God’s gifts of grace to humankind and as something “serious” rather than “ridiculous.” We also recommend careful, responsible immunization in consultation with your health-care provider.
We are not saved by health habits, but we ignore or despise prudent counsel to our own detriment.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.