A senior Adventist official challenged 1,150 people at a Geneva health conference on Wednesday to evaluate their own eating and exercise habits — and then he practiced what he preached by performing a vigorous workout on stage.
Delbert Baker, vice president of the Adventist world church, joined U.S. President Barack Obama’s former physician and the president of a major Australian food company in telling attendees that good health practices started with themselves, and only then could they effectively share principles learned at the conference with others.
“Your constituents want to see you practice what you’re speaking about,” Baker said.
Baker, dressed in black sports pants and sneakers, emphasized his point by dropping to the floor and rapidly doing 50 push-ups, drawing astonished applause from the audience.
He also did 50 sit-ups as well as jumping jacks and stretches, all of which he said could easily be done in the Swiss hotel rooms where the participants were staying.
The call to exercise came a day after the Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle opened with internationally recognized health leaders warning about a growing epidemic of non-communicative diseases caused by inactive lifestyles and poor diets. The weeklong conference aims to enable participants to nurture the physical and spiritual well-being of people in their home countries.
'Get Off the Couch'
Baker, who has run marathons on all seven continents, including Antarctica, worked out on the stage while his wife, Susan, a physical therapist, took to the lectern to encourage the audience to commit to regular exercise.
Susan Baker acknowledged that the commitment might sound daunting to some.
“In the past we have made exercise too difficult a concept to most people,” she said.
But people could start by building activity into their daily routines, such as walking to a destination instead of driving, she said.
She also urged creativity in finding multiple ways to exercise.
“The most important thing is to go at your own pace,” she said.
Delbert Baker said Christians have a heaven-given mandate to care for their health, and he read 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20, which calls on believers to “glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Baker offered research indicating that exercise can add 18 months to three years to a person’s life.
But, Baker said, small beads of sweat clinging to his brow, “You’ve got to start, you’ve got to get off the couch.”
Health Providers Must Be Taught
Baker's call for participants to “walk the talk” was echoed by Jeffrey Kuhlman, who worked as Obama’s personal physician from 2009 to 2013. Kuhlman, senior vice president at Adventist-operated Florida Hospital, said in a plenary speech that even the doctors and nurses who treat patients must be taught to take care of themselves. For that reason, the 2,247-bed Florida Hospital system, which treats more patients than any other hospital in the U.S., provides personal wellness training to its 17,600 employees, he said.
“You cannot help others live a healthy life unless you believe it yourself,” he said.
Sanitarium Foods, an Adventist-owned maker of healthy breakfast foods and soy products in Australia, also promotes wellness among its staff, and it is a recognized national leader for its program called Vitality Works, said its president, Kevin Jackson. He said the program, initially created for the company’s 2,000 employees, had proven so popular that it has been introduced at the country’s federal reserve bank, prison service and fire service, as well as at airlines and mining companies.
“We see this as part of our work as a company affiliated with the Adventist Church,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
Attendees Consider Healthier Lifestyles
Some conference participants were already reassessing their lifestyles by the time the presentations stopped for lunch.
“Exercise has been a challenge for me because of lower back pain,” said Charity Ngondo, who oversees the women’s, children’s, and health ministries department for Zambia’s Lusaka Conference. “I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should see a doctor.”
She spoke while sharing a lunch of sandwiches and fruit with Abia Chimpinde Jishinda, Health Ministries director and HIV/AIDS coordinator at the Copperbelt Zambia Conference.
Jishinda said she already took brisk walks but now planned to start doing sit-ups and push-ups.
“I don’t think that I am doing enough,” she said.
But she added that she had to be careful because she has diabetes.
Soul-Searching Over Meat
The 49-member delegation from the Euro-Asia Division, which includes Russia, had much to think about after two days of science-backed presentations about the benefits of meat-free meals. Many Adventists are not vegetarian in that part of the world, and some harbor resentment toward the diet after it was incorrectly equated with salvation in years past, said Nadezhda Ivanova, Health Ministries director for the Euro-Asia Division.
“There are not many vegetarians in our group. They mostly like meat, and they fight for meat,” she said with a laugh.
Ivanova, a fourth-generation Russian Adventist and life-long vegetarian, said she hoped that the conference would lead to serious soul searching.
“I don’t want them to choose to be vegetarian because they are Adventist or because they want other people to see that they are vegetarian,” she said. “It should be because they realize that God is offering a better way.”