Health and fitness

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit,1 and God has commissioned us to care for them well and faithfully. Jesus paid the ultimate price to make us His own, so we should show our gratitude by investing in our health. Taking good care of our bodies and health is a natural outgrowth of loving ourselves and appreciating the gift of life that God has given to us.

You might be tempted to feel that you can’t afford to tune in to these tips, either because it costs too much or takes too long. I feel that way sometimes too. But ultimately, working to stay in good health can prevent a breakdown in your health, which could be far more disruptive and costly.

Let’s look at five starting points for good health and fitness. Of course, there will always be differing opinions when it comes to health matters, and each of us must make our own decisions based on what works for us and our body, taking into account our particular circumstances and health needs.

Number 1. Make healthy choices.

One of the keys to maintaining health and fitness is the food you eat. There have been many popular diets and eating philosophies over the years, but with additional research, some of the previous recommendations for healthy eating have been reconsidered. For example, there used to be a lot of emphasis on low-fat diets, which resulted in people eating a lot more sugar and processed foods and grains (such as bread, pasta, etc.), with poor overall results.

Generally speaking, if you want to make well-balanced food choices, you would:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods that you or someone else prepared. This means avoiding processed foods and ready-made meals.
  • Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, in a variety of colors.
  • Eat healthy oils with omega-3s, such as those from nuts, seeds, and avocados, as well as extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil.
  • Protect your healthy gut flora by avoiding excessive or unnecessary use of antibiotics and eating a balanced diet that is low in sugar and refined grains, and that includes natural probiotics (good bacteria), such as unsweetened yogurt and other fermented foods. This will keep your immune system strong.
  • Drink plenty of pure water. Half your body weight in ounces each day is a good amount when living in a moderate climate.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.
  • And of course, don’t smoke.

Number 2. Maintain proper weight.

If you’re someone who struggles with excessive weight or obesity, then you know it’s a tough battle to fight. Being overweight is a far-reaching problem. According to a BBC report, worldwide obesity has quadrupled since 1980.2

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis—a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints), and some types of cancer.

Excess weight and obesity are largely preventable. Reversing these conditions isn’t easy, but by God’s grace and with His help, it is possible. The Bible promises, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”3

Number 3. Exercise regularly.

Exercise is essential to keeping your weight at a healthy level—but it also builds health in many other ways. It increases energy; improves muscular strength, tone, and endurance; makes you feel happier; reduces stress, anxiety, and depression; helps you look and feel younger; decreases body fat and strengthens bones; sharpens focus, increases productivity, and stimulates creativity; promotes restful sleep; enhances intimacy and relationships; enhances immune function; increases joint mobility; improves posture; and treats and prevents more than 40 chronic diseases.4

The key is to be active, to move, and to move often. “According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting is now the new smoking. Sitting too long, up to three or four hours at a time, is now equivalent to smoking up to a pack and a half of cigarettes a DAY.”5

Number 4. Minimize stress.

Stress enters our lives as a result of many different concerns, such as sickness, chronic pain, financial problems, work matters, relationship conflicts, parenting issues, and much more.

If untreated, consistently high stress could become a chronic condition, which can result in serious health problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can even contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity, or exacerbate existing illnesses.6

There are many ways to reduce the stress in our lives, and we each need to find what works for us personally. I often feel stressed when I’ve overextended myself, when I’m too busy, or if I’ve taken on too many appointments and obligations. When that happens, I try to make a conscious effort to slow down, to rest and relax more, to take more time with God. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”7

Number 5. Enjoy life, be happy, and have a positive outlook!

Here is some interesting insight from an article titled “Happiness Is Key to Longer Life”:

Ruut Veenhoven, a professor from Rotterdam’s Erasmus University [stated]: “Happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill.” …

After reviewing 30 studies carried out worldwide over periods ranging from one to 60 years, the Dutch professor said the effects of happiness on longevity were comparable to that of smoking or not.

That special flair for feeling good, he said, could lengthen life by between 7.5 and 10 years. …

Happy people were more inclined to watch their weight, were more perceptive of symptoms of illness, tended to be more moderate with smoking and drinking, and generally lived healthier lives.

They were also more active, more open to the world, more self-confident, made better choices and built more social networks.8

I’m going to close with a few lines from the first part of Rick Warren’s book, The Daniel Plan:

Health is about more than a program. Health comes from recognizing and using God’s power in your life and treating your body and mind with the care that he intended.

Where God guides, he provides. What he calls you to do, he equips you to do. He doesn’t need your strength and willpower, but he does need your commitment. He wants you to live an abundant life that includes a vibrant faith, a vibrant body and a vibrant mind. But you must rely on Jesus. …

You have to believe you can get healthy even if you can’t see it yet. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”…

You will never reach your optimum health without paying attention to the spiritual dimensions of your life. … [The key] is not in psyching yourself up, but in relaxing in God’s grace so that he can do through you what he desires to do.9

  1. See 1 Corinthians 3:16–17.
  2. Obesity quadruples to nearly one billion in developing world,” BBC News, 3 January 2014.
  3. Galatians 6:9 ESV
  4. This list is based on Rick Warren’s book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 41.
  5. Ibid., 163, based on the following article: James Vlashos, “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?” The New York Times, April 14, 2011.
  6. Alexandra Sifferlin, “The Most Stressed-Out Generation? Young Adults,” TIME, Feb. 7, 2013.
  7. Psalm 55:22 ESV
  8. “Happiness is key to longer life,” AFP, August 14, 2008.
  9. Warren, The Daniel Plan, 33–34,52.

Peter Amsterdam

Peter Amsterdam has been active in Christian service since 1971. In 1995 he became co-director (together with his wife, Maria Fontaine) of the Christian community of faith known as the Family International. He has authored a variety of articles on Christian faith and theology. (Articles by Peter Amsterdam used in Activated are adapted.)