Faith and Health Partnerships
Caring for One Another:
Promoting Healthy Eating and Active Living
Sept. 23, 2021

Faith communities are gathering places where people of faith pray, worship, learn, serve, and spend time in community with each other. The practices of our traditions help us understand what it means to be whole and healthy in our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Faith communities are also places where we care for one another. Among the ways we can do that: encourage one another to eat a healthy diet and stay active. Making changes in just those two areas can reap big benefits, especially for those impacted by obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other chronic conditions.

Healthy eating and active living also can improve mental health. Researchers have found that exercises like running, swimming, biking, walking and even dancing can reduce both anxiety and depression.

We hope this resource will inspire you and strengthen what you already are doing to care for the health of those in your faith community and larger community, as well.
How faith communities can promote healthy eating

Eating healthy is good for us. It lowers our risk of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, as well as defends against depression. Good eating habits also can boost our energy, sharpen our memory, and stabilize our mood.

It is no accident that almost every religious tradition features food as a central part of their sacred practices. Eating is a holy act, so it is important that we eat well and in ways that honor our bodies, God, and each other.

How can faith communities promote healthy eating?

Encourage congregants to eat well:
  • Share healthy recipes, and resources, like USDA MyPlate print materials, graphics, videos and tools, and Eat Healthy on a Budget article,
  • Host a healthy eating presentation or workshop,
  • Ask your faith leader to incorporate a health message into a sermon.

Develop internal policies to guide healthier food choices at church events:
  • Require fresh food options and unsweetened beverages during congregational functions. See Healthy Cooking for Your Congregation for ideas on how to select, prepare, and serve healthy meals,
  • Serve nutritious snacks during children's programs.

Offer healthy food for the community:
  • Bring nutritious meals to community dinners or food pantries,
  • Establish a community garden and donate produce to area agencies,
  • Set up a congregational farmer's market,
  • Use kitchen facilities for healthy cooking demonstrations and classes.

Advocate in your community for healthier food options:
  • Adopt a corner store to request and reinforce fresh food sales,
  • Encourage local restaurants to include health information or more nutritious dishes on their menu.
How faith communities can promote active living

The health benefits of being physically active add up. Active living can improve our overall health and well-being, reduce stress levels, maintain healthy bones and strong muscles, and lower our risk for chronic conditions like heart disease.

How can faith communities promote active living?

Encourage physical activity:

Develop internal policies:
  • Require physical activity in children's programming,
  • Build physical activity breaks into meetings and activities.

Offer physical activity programs:
  • Start a walking group or fitness class,
  • Use parking lots and other outdoor space as an activity lot for the community,
  • Use congregational property for activities, like community gardening.

Advocate for policies in your community that promote physical activity. For example:
  • Join in a city-wide effort to improve streets, sidewalks, bike paths and intersections,
  • Ask your lawmakers to take a Complete Streets approach to roadway design or follow an Active Transportation Plan to make it easier for community members to access transit, bike and pedestrian friendly roadways, parks, and connections to local places like grocery stores, shops, or restaurants.
The Oasis provides nourishment for body and soul
In 2010, the congregation of Kimball Avenue United Church of Christ worshipped in a historic building, located in the Logan Square community of Chicago…until a steam boiler pipe burst and damaged the building beyond affordable repair. So, in 2011, the congregation boldly moved forward in disassembling the building and opening the space for God to fill it in.

A community group was first to ask about the open space to expand their garden program. Within three years, the property, now called The Oasis, added ponds, a turtle sanctuary, a waterfall, a stone wall for moss, walkways with fruit trees, and a meditation labyrinth – one of the only ADA-compliant labyrinths in the state.

“We really see it as a part of our community outreach,” says Pastor Bruce Ray. “We’re trying to do more than just grow food. We really want to grow relationships, use it to connect people who normally wouldn’t be connected.”

The initial gardening partnership served 17 families, but they didn’t necessarily reflect the full range of families in the community. “Gardening in this community has tended to be among millennial whites," he said. "We wanted to make it a little more colorful, and that is a challenge…it’s hard to bridge certain demographics.” But Pastor Ray is excited about the way it has evolved.

Today, the garden consists of 34 in-ground growing plots and four standing garden boxes enabling people with mobility issues to participate in growing their own food. Six of the plots grow food that is given to Community Dinners, a weekly meal for the community that is prepared and served at St. Nicolai United Church of Christ, Chicago.

Over the years, the congregation has collaborated with the After School Matters, a program designed to give teens the opportunity to explore their passions and develop their talents.

“We have now watched more than 200 high school students go through the program!” Pastor Ray says. “At the recommendation of the students, we now have two hives of honeybees which produced over 10 gallons of honey. The teens learned all about honey harvesting and sold the honey as a fundraiser for the program.”

In addition, eight of the plots are used by the Design.Build.Grow.Eat. program, which gives youth an opportunity to learn gardening and seasonal cooking.

Mental health benefits of exercise and nutrition
By: Advocate Aurora Health health enews Staff

From weight loss goals to work priorities, you may have a number of things you’re trying to improve every day. One thing you might want to add and prioritize on your checklist is your mental health.

The topic can seem overwhelming. How do you prioritize something as broad and important as mental health? It’s a large feat.

But some very basic practices can help you create and/or maintain good mental health, according to Dr. Sarah Katula, an advanced practice nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, in Downers Grove, Ill.

Katula recommends the following five tips for people focusing on their mental health:

  • Exercise is very important to the mind-body connection,” says Katula. “There are numerous studies that show the benefits of exercise on your mind. One study even found lifestyle modifications may help in treating individuals with serious mental illness. Researchers found that exercises like running, swimming, biking, walking and even dancing reduced both anxiety and depression.”

  • Gut health. Nutrition is also linked to mental health. “A healthy microbiome is very important, as our gut is our ‘second brain’,” says Katula. Eating whole foods, real foods, unprocessed foods and including very minimal sugar is key to a healthy gut, she says. Why the connection? “One reason is your gut has a whole bunch of serotonin receptors, which is one of the neuro chemicals involved in mood,” Katula explains.

Keep reading to learn about additional ways to maintain mental health.
Resources from Advocate Aurora Health
Online Series:

Oct. 2, 9, 16 and 23, from 10:00-11:30 a.m.

Skillfully weaving scripture, prayer, and stories from our local and global community, Just Eating? is an experiential study series for Christian congregations that encourages people to eat in more intentional ways by seeing the links between our eating habits and larger issues of hunger, environment, community, body awareness and spiritual growth. The program takes participants on a journey from the table of the Lord to the table of the world that will challenge, encourage, and enrich all who participate.

Each session will include time to listen for the Biblical Word to us, an opportunity to engage in faith practices that connect us more deeply to our faith, and education about how our eating habits connect us to the world and to the larger food system.

Please plan to attend all four sessions. Each participant will receive a copy of the Leader Guide for the curriculum and a book of devotional readings for reflection and action.
Download and share these bulletin inserts and worship slide
Expert Nutrition Services

Achieve your nutrition and health goals with the help of our leading diet specialists, who take a holistic approach to care that includes education, behavior modification and lifestyle-change support. We'll work with you to develop meal plans that cater to your unique medical or personal needs and food preferences as well as ensure you have the resources necessary to stick to them.
Good nutrition is about more than just losing weight. It’s about keeping your body healthy inside and out. We offer comprehensive nutrition services to keep you feeling your best.

Everyone’s nutritional goals are different, whether it’s losing weight, building fitness or just eating better. That’s why we take a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to your care, working with you to overcome your challenges and live a healthier, more active life.

Our nutrition services team includes registered dietitians and nutritionists, exercise specialists, psychologists, primary care physicians and a bariatric surgeon. These specialists work together with you to help you create a realistic, achievable plan for changing old habits in order to accomplish your nutrition goals.
From Advocate Aurora health enews:
Share these articles with your faith community
Advocate Aurora Health Local Services Guide
The Advocate Aurora Health Local Services Guide, powered by NowPow, allows you to find free and low-cost options for food, safe housing, child care, transportation and more.
Healthy Eating Resources
Body and Soul Toolkit contains step-by-step instructions on how to plan, set up, manage and market a fruit and vegetable mini-market in your faith-based organization or community.
Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table explores eating as a practice of faith. Topics include Food Sharing as Sacramental, Nurturing Our Bodies with Food, Hunger, and Creating Community with Food.
Faithful Families Thriving Communities works directly in communities of faith across the country to promote eating smart, moving more and other ways to stay healthy. Resources include African American Churches: Eating Smart and Moving More.
Food Sovereignty for All outlines how to start and maintain community gardens, community kitchens, buying clubs, farm stands and other projects harnessing faith community resources. It offers tips for project success and effective collaboration with low-income populations.
Food for Thought draws on texts from within and beyond Jewish traditions to explore a range of topics relating to Jews and food. Hazon has developed other resources, including Fit to Eat, Sustainable Shabbat Dinner Guide and more.
Let's Glean! offers ideas on how faith communities can collect excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state and county fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need.
SNAP-Ed Connection teaches people how to shop for and cook healthy meals and make their SNAP dollars stretch. The "Eat Right When Money's Tight" page offers tips, recipes and information on food assistance. The SNAP-Ed toolkit offers information on interventions, including those for faith-based communities.
Ismaili Nutrition Centre offers a range of recipes and articles that will help you to make healthier food choices. The aim of the Nutrition Centre is to offer you practical dietary strategies that can reduce your risks of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and to ultimately help you improve the quality of your life.

The site draws on the findings of the South Asian Food Survey as the primary source for its nutritional data.
Foodsmart is a personalized tele-nutrition platform that
combines the largest national network of registered dietitians, personalized meal planning and the broadest food marketplace to make eating well simple and affordable.

Foodsmart helps families leverage price comparison, discounts, and accessible SNAP benefits with local grocers, and issues foodscripts to enhance disease management.
USDA MyPlate resources include print materials, graphics, videos, and tools, like the MyPlate Quiz and MyPlate app.
Advocate Aurora Health LiveWell app offers healthy recipes, 7-day meal plans and articles on a variety of health topics.
Healthy HotSpot aims to build healthy places in suburban Cook County by promoting healthy eating, active living, tobacco-free living and promoting health for people living with chronic conditions.
Active Living Resources
Move Your Way® Community Resources include videos, fact sheets, and tips that make it easier to get a little more active. See tools and resources:
is a national initiative led by CDC to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, quality of life, reduce health care costs, and help reduce the risk of at least 20 chronic diseases and conditions.
#HealthyAtHome offers advice to help you and your family stay healthy at home during this period of confinement. Includes information on staying physically active, eating healthily, looking after our mental health, quitting tobacco and healthy parenting. 
Fine, Fit, and Fabulous is a 12-week Christian diabetes prevention program that teaches nutrition and fitness within a spiritual context using group discussions and exercise sessions.
The CDC offers resources on walking, including mall walking, designing active-friendly communities, America Walks, and more.
The Physical Activity Alliance offers suggestions for faith communities on how to promote physical activity for congregants and the wider community.
Faith, Activity, and Nutrition (FAN) program for Christian churches focuses on physical activity and healthy eating, two behaviors consistently shown in research to prevent and treat chronic health conditions.
Protect your body. Protect your temple toolkit offers ideas and resources to help
faith organizations plan, develop, and implement health related
programs and activities.
The American Heart Association offers resources to help you start or join a walking club.
Want to Hear From You!

We hope you find this update helpful as you promote the health of your members and community. Please contact Cindy Novak if you have questions or topics you'd like us to address. Thank you!
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