FAITHFUL LIVING: Take care of your body and your soul

It was in the early 1980s when I began watching Dr. Timothy Johnson on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” I was a college student at the time and almost everyone living in Bixby Hall seemed loyal to the American Broadcasting Company. ABC ruled in those days among most college students, it seemed. So did Luke and Laura and “General Hospital.” Our communal family room at the end of the fourth floor provided us with a kitchenette and several couches. At noon, Monday through Friday, the room exploded with activity as guys and girls hurried back from their classes and the dining commons to claim a spot on the couch and watch what was then the coolest soap opera on the airways.

At the time Dr. Johnson was a bit of a pioneer at GMA, for he chose various medical issues to report about before offering viewers his own opinions. For a time he was frequently criticized for interjecting his views. Critics believed he should have remained impartial and allowed his viewers the chance to reach their own conclusions. Johnson disagreed, saying that his experiences as a physician would help those in the midst of medical decision-making to work through the complexities often associated with treatment. His longevity is evidence to his success. We learned to count on his critical thinking and felt assured that we were at least pointed in the right direction, even if we ultimately came to differing conclusions.

What I did not know until recently is that Dr. Timothy Johnson has a degree in theology. Before attending medical school, Johnson was a seminarian and it was while enrolled in a class dealing with pastoral education and requiring hospital visitations that he was able to feed his fascination with how intricately interwoven are the souls and bodies of people. In fact, this Harvard medical school lecturer and minister believes people who regularly attend religious services live longer, healthier lives. They are less likely to indulge in self-destructive behaviors, as well.

When he noticed similarities between the ways good pastors related to their parishioners and the ways good doctors ministered to their patients, he caught the vision for how he could unite the two professions.

For 30 years Johnson has chosen to work as a faith-driven physician and his colleagues have not only taken notice, but are comfortable talking publicly about their impressions. Late night investigative reporter Ted Koppel calls Johnson’s perspectives “balm for the soul,” pointing out that viewers have long appreciated the compassion he brings to his reporting.

Now we know why.

Johnson has concluded that body and soul are one entity and what is good for one is usually good for the other. He moves one step further by suggesting that we daily keep six lifestyle choices in mind as we manage our body and soul issues.

First, Johnson says we need to move. Obesity is the second biggest killer in America and he points out that it is nearly impossible to maintain a healthy weight unless we walk, run, swim, dance, swim, lift weights, roller blade, tap dance, hike or select an activity that gets us moving several times a week. Exercising will also help us to feel renewed and more peaceful

Second, we need to give of ourselves. Johnson says that he works daily to live by his own mother’s favorite saying, “Helping someone up a hill means you’re that much closer to the top yourself.” He honors his mother and her understanding that serving others also serves God by doing such tasks as taking calls made directly to him, rather than passing them on to an associate. Johnson has learned what when he gives of himself, his attitude toward people improves dramatically. In fact, he has watched patients with good attitudes generally live longer, happier lives.

Third, we need to schedule routine physical exams and follow the standardized testing regimes suggested by our doctors. This will probably include blood pressure, PSA and cholesterol-level testing, colonoscopies, mammograms and pap smears. Take care of the body God gave you.

Fourth, we need to counteract loneliness and negativity by surrounding ourselves with friends. Their presence in your life will profoundly help you manage your stress, worries and fears, and fuel new ideas when life requires us to change. And where do people gather friends, you ask? They attend religious activities and join service clubs. They regularly e-mail old friends. They fish, dive and sew. They hike, meet for coffee and join Bible studies. They garden, monitor beaches and fundraise for the local library.

Fifth, we need to deliberately schedule rest into our hectic lives … everyday, every week, every month and every year.

Sixth, we must listen to our hearts. Sew that quilt. Go sailing. Buy that new digital camera. God gave us interests and talents to help make this life worth living — body and soul.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is

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