Sabbath Observance Makes You Healthier
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Life here in the West is incessantly busy and—for some of us—chaotic. There is an endless list of things to do with little time to accomplish it all. As a result, many of us are burning the candle at both ends: late nights, shorter weekends, and no breaks or vacations. Sound familiar? We all could use a little more rest. This is why, from the beginning of time, God set aside every seventh day of the week, for us to rest, relax, be rejuvenated, and enjoy our significant relationships with family, friends, and him (Gen 2:2–3). Those who do take advantage of this twenty-four-hour period of rest have experienced significant health benefits.
Researchers who have analyzed the relationship between religiosity and mental and physical health have discovered a significant positive—though complex—relationship between these variables. "Religion may influence individuals' health by encouraging a healthy lifestyle, prescribing healthy behaviors that prevent illness, providing support systems when faced with stressful life events, and fostering an attitude of faith and hope that sustains an individual in crisis."1
Interested in this connection, the Biopsychosocial Religion and Health Study (a part of the larger Adventist Health Study—2) set out to measure it by analyzing specifically the effect that religious practice of Sabbath observance has on mental and physical well-being. Sabbath observance is the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday) as sacred by abstaining from regular secular activities (employment activities, household chores, commerce-related activities, non-religious entertainment, etc.) and participating in religious/spiritual pursuits (worship service attendance, spiritual disciplines, philanthropic service, fellowship with family and friends, outdoor activities, etc.). The researchers were particularly analyzing the connection of Sabbath observance to health in four ways: (1) religious coping, (2) religious support, (3) diet, and (4) exercise. This study has produced some amazing confirmations for the positive connection between religion and health, but it also has affirmed Seventh-day Adventists regarding their unique healthy lifestyle and particularly their observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.
The Sabbath-Health Connection in Research
First of all, Superville, Pargament, and Lee point out that some previous studies by other researchers have suggested "that there may be an association between Sabbath-keeping and better health."2 They highlight a study that was done by J. Anson and O. Anson, which interestingly revealed that there are much fewer deaths on Saturday (Sabbath) among Jewish Israeli residents than any other day of the week including Sunday.3
Other preliminary studies have analyzed the connection between Sabbath beliefs and practices to health among Seventh-day Adventists. “The results indicated that” those with positive feelings toward the Sabbath (e.g., Sabbath brings rest or that it builds a better relationship with God)” experienced “better mental health, better general health, satisfaction with life, better sleep quality, and lower frequency of physical symptoms” than those who held “negative feelings toward the Sabbath (e.g., keeping Sabbath out of guilt).”4 Yet the present research study has produced even more astounding results.
The above researchers surveyed over 5,000 Seventh-day Adventist adults living in the United States of America and Canada. The Biopsychosocial Religion and Health Study revealed that, though the group at large rated high on Sabbath-keeping, those who observed the Sabbath more sacredly experienced greater mental and physical health benefits than those who engaged in more secular activities. That provides quite a clear call for Seventh-day Adventists to protect the sacredness of the Sabbath from being encroached upon by secular activities such as work, business, commerce, and secular entertainment.
The Sabbath and Mental Health
In the study, mental health was shown to be significantly and directly related to Sabbath observance, most particularly in the areas of religious coping and religious support. This is because the Sabbath provides a twenty-four-hour window of opportunity for pause in the business of life in order to take time for developing relationships with God, fellow believers, family, and friends. These significant relationships provide us with the supports we need to cope and navigate the challenges and difficulties of life.
The Sabbath and Emotional Health
In addition to mental health, the Sabbath is directly linked with positive emotional health. “The Sabbath provides opportunities for expressions of positive emotions through worship, prayer, praise, and testimonies of thanks for pleasant thing that have happened in the lives of members.”5 Additionally, the fact, a significant part of Sabbath-keeping, as I have already mentioned, is meeting together with other church members, family, and friends. This greater social dynamic on the Sabbath fosters feelings of joy, peace, and belonging while lowering loneliness and depression.
The Sabbath and Physical Health
Although the present study found that the connection between Sabbath observance and physical health is not as strong as that between Sabbath observance and mental health, it still pointed to a significant association of Sabbath-keeping with a healthier diet and more exercise. That's right! Something about Sabbath compels believers to eat healthier and stay active. Maybe it has something to do with the Seventh-day Adventists traditions of holding vegetarian "potlucks" after Sabbath morning worship and doing outdoor activities to celebrate God's beautiful creation on the Sabbath. By why is the link not as strong with physical health as it is with mental health?
It is most likely due to the fact that the study showed a "suppressing effect" of religious coping in regard to physical health. An explanation may be that "whereas Sabbath keeping increases exposure to forms of religious coping, poor physical health triggers the use of religious coping so that as people experience poorer physical health, they rely more on religious coping."6 This is a good thing—looking to God for help when we are experiencing poor health—though it did lowered the statistical connection between Sabbath observance and physical health.
The Sabbath and Me
When I began graduate school, the need for rest became a major reality in my life. I spend every day was taken up attending classes; studying for exams; reading countless pages of books, periodicals, and scholarly papers; and writing my own papers, presentations, and projects. I have had many long nights in front of my computer screen, lost weekends to schoolwork, and little time during the week to spend with my wife, family, and friends. This high-stress situation has led me to a deeper understanding of humanity’s need of the weekly Sabbath. It has become such a critical part of my life. It is my weekly haven of rest, a special getaway from life, a little piece of heaven on earth. For that twenty-four-hour period, I set aside the books, the papers, the projects, the computer, and my work responsibilities and recalibrate my life to what is most important—my God and my other relationships. I spend Sabbath taking hikes with my wife and friends in nature, napping on the beach of Lake Michigan, praying, and reading and meditating on Scripture or other Christian literature. I don’t think I would have made it this far without the Sabbath. I have learned to thirst for this rest that God wants to give me every week.
The Sabbath and Rest
This scientific research confirms what Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 2:27–28: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The seventh-day Sabbath is a day of rest intended as a blessing for humanity from the very beginning. It was designed as a break from the busyness of life to experience God's rich blessings. The seventh-day Sabbath is a time once a week during which we can find an escape from work, commerce, and secular activities, and relish in the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual restoration that God wants to give each of us. Let's take advantage of this gift from heaven and find mental, emotional, and physical healing in Christ by observing the seventh-day Sabbath as holy (Exod 20:8–11).
1 Devon J. Superville, Kenneth I. Pargament, and Jerry W. Lee, "Sabbath Keeping and Its Relationships to Health and Well-Being: A Mediational Analysis," The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 24.3 (2014): 242.
2 Ibid., 243.
3 See J. Anson and O. Anson, "Death Rests a While: Holy Day and Sabbath Effects on Jewish Mortality in Israel," Social Science & Medicine 52 (2001): 83–97; idem, "Thank God It's Friday: The Weekly Cycle of Mortality in Israel," Population Research and Policy Review 19 (2000): 143–154.
4 Superville, Pargament, and Lee, "Sabbath Keeping," 244.
5 Ibid., 252.
6 Ibid., 251.