I was listening to the radio the other day, and the hostess was discussing exercise. She shared news about the latest “ground breaking” science showing that exercise has the maximum calorie-burning benefit if it’s done first thing in the morning, before breakfast. Otherwise, fewer calories are burned, and you’re “not getting as much bang for your buck.”
“You can drink coffee, though…that’s okay,” she finished.
I was so grateful when a dietitian called in and shared her wisdom about the fact that “perfect exercise” isn’t the point — simply moving our bodies is. Furthermore, she said, exercise doesn’t need to be a sweaty session at the gym in order to “count.” Walking up a few extra flights of stairs, rough-and-tumble-play with the kids, and even vigorously cleaning the house all have the beneficial physiologic effects of increasing heart rate and releasing endorphins. As long as we get our bodies up and moving every day, we can be sure that we are caring for our physical selves well enough.
After the caller hung up, the hostess said, “Yeah, well I still don’t feel like it counts unless I actually go to the gym.”
Exercise isn’t a moral issue.
Here’s the thing — exercise doesn’t need to “count.” The point of exercise isn’t to check something off a list, to reach a certain number (distance/time/calories) or to make our bodies look a certain way. The point of exercise as we read in the bible is simply to help us maintain the level of fitness we need to be able to fulfill God’s calling on our lives.
So — unless you’re a professional athlete — from a biblical standpoint, we only need to get up and get moving enough to empower us to be able to keep getting up and getting moving on a daily basis. Overt athleticism is a completely futile characteristic in the Kingdom of God unless a person’s career is in athletics. It’s not bad, but it isn’t necessarily valuable.
In other words, regularly moving our bodies helps keep us fit enough to and mentally stress-free enough to worship, serve, and spread the love of God. It holds no other purpose than that.
In the Christian world, there’s been an enormous infiltration of diet and fitness values over the past few decades. Many folks feel we have a moral responsibility to exercise or eat a certain way based off ever-changing scientific information broadcasted on the news. The argument is made that unless we eat and exercise according to x/y/z parameters, we aren’t stewarding our bodies well and therefore aren’t honoring God.
As ubiquitous as this view is in our culture, it doesn’t show up anywhere in the bible.
Exercise is not…
- Equivalent to Holiness. People who never go to the gym are not any less loved by God, any less holy, or any less able to fulfill God’s call on their lives. As long as we’re fit and well enough to worship, serve, and spread God’s love, we’re doing enough. 1 Timothy 4:8 reads, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
- A Requirement to “Earn” Food. Even if we don’t exercise, we still need to eat in order to maintain health, have enough energy to carry out the day’s tasks, and eliminate hunger-related distractions. The point of exercise isn’t to burn calories or to “earn” calories from food. The point of exercise is to empower service, worship and love through physical fitness. Nowhere in the bible do we read that the right to eat is dependent upon exercise.
- Something to Be Ignored. While exercise isn’t a moral issue, a prescription from God, or a requirement to be able to feed, care for, or respect our bodies, it absolutely is not something we should completely discount in modern society. Most of us work 9-5 desk jobs, and not getting enough movement in our days can lead to fatigue, lethargy, and depression. These things can create huge barriers in our ability to worship, serve, and spread the love of God. Exercise can absolutely be energizing, and we all should move regularly for this reason. We just need to keep it in perspective. Guilt, shame, and exercise-related comparisons have no place in the Christian life, but gentle movement certainly does.
Balancing it all…
For a long time, I had an extremely unhealthy relationship with exercise. I felt completely guilty and ashamed if I skipped a workout, and would take painstaking efforts to run and lift to the point that it interfered with my ability to live an otherwise God-honoring life. Today when I exercise, it’s always within the context of my priorities — I don’t compromise on things like family time, ministry or work so I can fit in an extra workout. However, when I have personal time or lulls in my day, I get up and get moving for a while to keep my energy levels and attitude high enough to live a fully for God. [I talk more about how I healed my relationship with exercise in this post about running.]
What’s your relationship with exercise like?