Ageing expert acknowledges role of spirituality

Thanks to my Northern California colleague, Eric Nelson, for the following guest viewpoint.

Last week I had the great pleasure of listening to a presentation by Dr. Walter Bortz, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University.  He’s probably best recognized as one of the country’s most distinguished experts on aging and longevity.

He began his talk by saying, “We now know how long we can live and what forces determine our longevity,” citing genes, accidents, and aging as the key factors.  He said there’s not too much we can do about the first two – genes and accidents – but that there’s quite a bit we can and should be doing to prevent the adverse affects of aging.

In his view, prevention – eating right, getting plenty of exercise, finding ways to stimulate your mind – is the key to living a long and healthy life.

Walter and Ruth Anne Bortz

By the way, he thinks that we should all expect to live to be 100.

During the question and answer period I asked if he thought that spirituality might also be a factor in determining one’s health and longevity.  Given his focus on all things medical, I was surprised by his answer.

“That’s a wonderfully probing and appropriate question,” he said.

He went on to say how important it is for us to take personal responsibility for our health and that one’s spiritual outlook – taking account of one’s thoughts, religious or otherwise – certainly plays a role.

After citing a few individuals who have been instrumental in this line of research (e.g. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital) he concluded by saying, “We need total immersion in our study of spirituality.”

Indeed, we do need “total immersion” in the study of spirituality, especially as it relates to health.  Preventing and, if need be, treating illness by taking “personal responsibility” for all aspects of our life – for instance, endeavoring at every turn to express health-inducing thoughts such as patience, compassion, integrity, wisdom, and joy – could go very far in improving the health of our nation and the world.

It’s worked for me.  It’s worked for others.  No doubt you’ve seen it work – at least in some small measure – for you, too.

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