Seventy-eight million adults and twelve million children in the United States are considered obese (thirty-five or more pounds overweight). A Baylor study released in 2015 found that one-third of clergy are obese. Obesity is associated with several additional health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and breathing problems to name just a few. And while obesity has become a primary health concern in our nation, it is merely one aspect of our physical wellbeing.
All this information was found with just a few minutes’ worth of googling. So how is it that so many of us struggle with weight and other preventable health issues when we have easy access to an ever-increasing resource of quality health information? Many health plans have begun emphasizing preventative health care, yet we remain a far too overweight and out of shape society.
The apostle Paul speaks about the body in I Corinthians. In chapters three and six, he refers to our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. He also reminds us that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).
As a temple of the Holy Spirit, we have a great responsibility to care for our bodies -- even when they do not feel much like temples of any kind. This includes paying attention to what, and how much, we put into our mouths. This does not mean we cannot find joy in eating -- especially given the descriptions of feasts throughout scripture. Rather, we should mindfully enjoy our food in such a way that our bodies are the better for it.
However, physical wellbeing is more than just what we eat or drink. A lack of sleep increases the likelihood of obesity and other health problems.
Often, our boundary-less work lives intrude on our ability to get the rest we need. Email and voicemails follow us home. Laptops and smartphones can travel everywhere we go. If we are not careful, we will be consumed with constant busyness. This can disrupt the rest and restoration we need on a regular basis. It can also detract from the time and energy we have available for our families.
Just as our Fitbits remind us to get up and move around during long stretches of inactivity, the rhythms of our day, week, month, and year should provide time for work, play, and rest. It is very easy to allow the pressures of the day to determine a schedule that does not provide time to get up and move without the reminder of a friend or Fitbit. The Baylor study mentioned above also found that days off, support groups, and sabbaticals are associated with lower odds of obesity -- emphasizing that self-care moderates the associations between stress and obesity.
So, how do we improve our lifestyle? Physical wellbeing, just like other areas of our wellbeing, will not take on a positive shape without intentionality. Planning to change one’s lifestyle is different than actually implementing those changes. For many of us, this sounds like a lot. When I seek to make positive changes in self-care, I try to take reasonable steps. I am not a runner. My knees have not allowed that for years. Instead, I make time to get on an exercise bike to reduce the jarring effect on my body. I don’t expect to bike a marathon any time soon. However, as I have seen with many others who take those initial small steps, maybe someday I will.
For myself, I know that I need an element of peer pressure to encourage me to eat healthier, exercise and try and get enough sleep. When we can, my wife and I try to be that peer pressure for one another. When one of us (usually her) is more on top of exercising and verbally encourages the other (usually me) to do the same, the result is far greater than just telling or just doing. The same goes for food choices. When we talk about diet (not that I tend to be all that excited to do so) it reinforces the value of making smarter choices. Yes, we still indulge, but we are less likely to make that the norm if we hold each other accountable.
Both physical and spiritual muscles need to be worked out in order to be strengthened. I cannot run the race God set out for me when I am spiritually empty. Neither can I hope to live my best life if I do not take steps to take care of my body.
Regardless of what a reasonable goal is in your life, determine to take that first step toward healthier living. Then get stepping!