Four Reasons Exercise Is Important For Christians

If you like to run or work out . . . 

If you're on a sports team . . . 

Or if you've ever struggled with body image, like me . . .

. . . You might be interested to know what the Church has to say about exercise. 

A lot of fitness gurus talk about exercising for a "bikini body" or to get six-pack abs. Somewhere along the way, I decided that wasn't motivation enough for me. There had to be a better reason to exercise. And, after all, the Church teaches that the body is a good thing. 

The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (CCC 364)
I was so interested to know what the Church teaches about exercise that I actually wrote my senior thesis on the topic. Here are some of the benefits to exercise I found from a Christian perspective:

1) Exercise helps you grow in discipline—an essential part of the Christian life.

In his letters to the early Christians, St. Paul often compares the self-control required for Christians to athletic training. It's no coincidence—both athletes and Christians have to be extremely disciplined. If I want to be a great athlete, I have to train every day. If I want to have a vibrant prayer life, I have to pray every day.

“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:25-27)

Exercise and prayer both require constant discipline, which can be painful at times (early morning workouts, for instance, or finding a Mass to attend while traveling), but both are extremely beneficial for body and soul in the long run. In both, perseverance is key.

2) Community naturally comes from exercising with others.

There sometimes comes a point during a workout when you've pushed yourself so far that your inhibitions vanish. You're dripping sweat, panting, and suddenly you don't care anymore what the person next to you thinks about you. 

Exercise breaks down barriers. You have to be authentic in some manner when you are pushing your physical body to its limits. And when you experience others at their weakest points, you naturally create camaraderie with them.

Any runner who has participated in a marathon naturally feels camaraderie with other marathoners. When I'm hiking up a particularly difficult slope, I often end up talking to strangers who are climbing alongside me, simply because we understand each other at that moment.

Which leads me into number three...

3) Group exercise and sports can help Christians lead others to Christ.

St. John Paul II spoke of the “universal language” of sporting which brings people of all nations and backgrounds together. He believed that the vast reaches of the sporting world, and its educational value, offered an ideal platform for Christian evangelization.

Even athletes not on a sports team can encounter the phenomenon of community simply because they share similar experiences, like I mentioned above. And because exercise breaks down barriers, it naturally creates a space for evangelization.

John Paul II knew of the community that exercise fosters. He would often lead groups of young people on hiking and kayaking trips, then listen to their struggles and preach the Gospel to them. He brought countless souls to Christ in that way.

4) Exercise can be a prayer.

I've met several priests and religious sisters who offer up their workouts for specific intentions—like struggling or ill friends and family members. I have friends who pray the Rosary or listen to prayers while running. I find it helpful to keep a certain person in mind and offer my workout for the day as a prayer for him or her. That way, when the workout gets tough, I have a purpose to finishing it beyond myself, a small sacrificial offering. 

“Athletic activity can help every man and woman to recall that moment when God the Creator gave origin to the human person, the masterpiece of his creative work." —Pope St. John Paul II

What would you add to this list?

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