Why is Health and Fitness Important?
Our bodies, we are told by St. Paul, are temples of the Holy Spirit— in other words, God Himself dwells within our bodies (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are called to glorify God through our bodily natures; in order to do this, we must see the body as a good, as a gift from God. It is therefore something to be cared for and cherished. The greatest thanks that we can give back to a gift-giver is to use the gift we have been given well. Through attaining and striving for health, we are able to better carry out God’s mission for us in this world. We will be in a better position to care for those in need, no matter what form that need may take. If we need to literally carry someone out of danger, we will be more capable on account of our healthier body. If we need to support someone emotionally, we will be more capable on account of our healthier emotional state.
Not everyone can become an Olympic champion. Some people may have very real and difficult physical or emotional limitations. The important key with maximizing one’s health, then, begins where you’re at and works up from there. Top health for one person may be different from top health for another, but the methods utilized for individual people to arrive there are very similar.
The human person is an integrated whole, and for this reason he must not be reduced to any single part of his nature. This whole includes five dimensions of the human person—these being spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and communal. None of these should be seen as stand-alone puzzle pieces, rather they are interconnected in such a way that each depends upon the others for full flourishing. As one who took on all these aspects of our humanity, Jesus calls us by His example to take great care of the temple of the Holy Spirit with which we have been entrusted by God.
Mindset and Perspective
Seeing our bodies as first and foremost temples of the Holy Spirit is the starting point for the Christian to understand the importance of healthy living. Seeing our body as a gift (a gift both in the sense of it being a gift from God and one that is meant to be given back to him and to others) gives us the correct mindset and perspective of health and fitness. With this mindset, we see the folly in both the secular worship of the body as well as its neglect. The body is neither to be worshiped as a temple of sensuality nor is it to be thrown away and neglected; both of which we see today—perhaps more so than ever before. The body is to be seen as a gift to be deeply cared for. We should be able to look with awe at the mystery of our ‘I’ contained in our bodies and repeat with the psalmist, “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” (Psalm 139:14)
This realization of the body as gift and as temple of the Holy Spirit gives us the correct launching point from which to depart in any endeavors towards healthy living and fitness. With this realization, we are able to truly “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (Romans 12:1). Our endeavors will in this way take the form of a prayer—one of gratitude to God for the great gift of our bodily nature; one of of sacrifice, as we seek after the self-discipline and mastery of our bodies which is so essential to the spiritual life; and of praise, as we seek to give God the greatest glory possible through our bodies. Striving for health and fitness is an endeavor which involves the whole person, the whole ‘I’. Anything such as this which involves our whole ‘I’ has the capacity to help integrate the whole self and to awaken the human spirit. When we have a goal to strive for (in this case, the glory of God and the service of others), our lives take on a definitive direction. When we are most integrated, we are most fully alive as human persons and more capable of encountering the world and reality as God intended us to. It allows us to run, to swim, to climb, to scale mountains, to feel free, to overcome obstacles.
The need for proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise has been inscribed into our bodies by our Creator, as have been a number of other physiological and psychological needs. When these are met, we as human persons can become the most all-around healthy—most “fully alive.” The proper amount of hydration in our bodies will help our digestion function better, help the body with thermoregulation, help maintain electrolyte balance, bring nutrients to cells via the blood, and keep our minds more alert and awake. The proper foods, in the proper balance, will ensure that our energy levels and weight are regulated correctly and that our cells will have the microscopic ingredients they need to thrive. While we sleep, numerous physiological processes take place that help consolidate memory, bolster our immune system, and maintain a healthier mental state. This carries on into our day, in which we will be less susceptible to illness, more alert, feel more energetic, and maintain a healthier and more balanced emotional state. Exercise strengthens not only our muscles and bones but our heart and brain. We can develop virtue through the discipline of fitness training. The integration of all aspects of health, when combined together, can help lead to human flourishing.
A Personal Commitment
Each one of us can make a personal commitment to both ourselves and God, to give Him the greatest glory we can in our bodies. This commitment will give birth to growth in virtue that involves and assists the development of our entire person—the spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and communal dimensions. We will become not only healthier in body, but in mind and spirit. We will learn the gifts of perseverance, endurance, discipline, and fortitude that we will need to be Christ’s witnesses in this world.