Vision: Holy Health, Batman! by Howard Hanger

July 7, 2016 |

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except bears. Bears will kill you.    – T-Shirt Wisdom

“No Pain, No Gain” was a slogan that cannon-balled into U.S. popular culture in 1982, when Jane Fonda produced a series of workout videos.  Notwithstanding the possibility that many hetero guys and homo ladies bought the videos just to watch Jane Fonda, the phrase did catch on, along with “Feel the Burn,” which came back around in the recent political hoohah.

The idea behind “No Pain, No Gain,” of course, is that getting healthy ain’t easy.  You’ve got to not eat foods you like and eat foods that you don’t. You’ve got to back off from the booze and the bud, and you have to workout. As in work-your-butt-off workout.  Apparently, butts don’t come off that easily.  So, there’s going to be some pain.

Athletes know this, of course.  Athletes and models. Athletes and models and narcissists.  Athletes and models and narcissists and dating scene newbies. Anyone who has ever striven for a healthy and/or buff body knows that there’s more involved than doing a few sit-ups while cutting back on beer and baklava.  It’s hard to get a hard and healthy body.

And, naturally, one of the motivating factors in all this No Pain, No Gain business is the hope that we will live a long and healthy life.  We want to live to a “ripe old age.”  At least that’s what we say, often forgetting that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, ripe is but a step away from rotten.  Most of us tend to age like fine milk.

But be not dismayed, Lil’ Buckaroos. According to a recent study (there’s always a recent study involved, isn’t there?) published in the JAMA Internal Medicine (Journal of the American Medical Association), researchers used data from a 16-year study of 75,534 women and discovered – are you ready for this? – that going to religious services may lower the risk for premature death.  Attendance more than once a week was associated with a 33 percent lower risk and once-a-week attendance, 26 percent.  Chreasters, however (those who only show up for Christmas and Easter) all die young with a horrible, painful passing. (Just kidding.)

The researchers statistically eliminated the possibility of reverse causation – that healthy people go to services more often than unhealthy ones. But no matter how they analyzed the data, the effect of simply attending services seemed to have benefits.

“This suggests that there is something powerful about the communal religious experience,” wrote Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology at Harvard and senior author of the study. “These are systems of thought and practice,” he wrote, “shaped over millennia, and they are powerful.”

No pain, no gain? It all fits together, now doesn’t it? Going to religious services can be painful. To the butt and the brain.  But who knows?  It may well be that singing the songs, praying the prayers, passing the peace and enjoying the company of folks who seek fullness of life might be the most painless and fulfilling path to health and joy. And… in many of these religious services they serve wine. Try finding that at your local gym.  Salud!