Exercise can decrease you risk of heart disease, increase your energy levels, improve your mood and self confidence, improve your memory, help you sleep better, and slow down the aging process. And yet most of us still find plenty of excuses to not exercise. This seems to be especially true in the church, where dedication to exercise is often mistaken for vanity. The truth is that Scripture encourages us to engage in physical activity in exercise. Considering the numerous benefits of exercise, it is obvious that God created us to be active, that we were Made to Move.
Many people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 6:10-20, in which the Apostle Paul exhorts us to take care of our bodies.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NAS95S)
While many have heard this verse used to teach that we should avoid promiscuity, alcohol, tobacco and drugs, it is rare that we are taught that this verse is not just a warning to avoid these activities, but is an exhortation to be proactive in caring for our bodies. We should make sure that we keep our bodies in peak condition at all times. That means that we are to glorify God both with the foods we eat to fuel our bodies, but also that we are to engage in physical exercise. In fact, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul says:
“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 NKJV)
Some people take Paul’s words that bodily exercise profits a little but that godliness is profitable for all things as a dismissal of exercise, which makes for a convenient excuse for them to sit around on their duff. But that is not what Paul is saying. First, we have already seen from 1 Corinithians that God is greatly concerned with the what we do with our bodies. Second, we have to consider the context.
“But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV)
Paul is instructing Timothy to reject false teaching, which is harmful to us spiritually, and to exercise ourselves toward godliness. Paul then reaffirms the benefit of physical exercise to use it as an example of the greater benefit of spiritual exercise. Bodily exercise, while beneficial in this life will not result in eternal life. But it still profits. I am reminded of Jesus’ instruction to the Pharisees.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23 NAS95S)
It is not a case of “either/or” but of “both/and.” We need to exercise ourselves bodily and spiritually. To assume that Paul is teaching in 1 Timothy that Christians should not engage in physical exercise is to fall into the Gnostic heresy and ignores Paul’s numerous other references to the benefits of physical discipline and exercise.
Another fundamental rule of interpreting Scripture is that you have to take into consideration the original audience as well as the distance of time. Paul wrote these words to Timothy nearly 2000 years ago. Paul and Timothy lived in a time and culture where constant physical activity was the norm. It has only been within the last 100 years that labor-saving devices have resulted in a drastic decline of our daily physical activity. A recent study of Old Order Amish populations, who reject modern conveniences, showed that a very high level of activity is integrated into their daily lives. On average, the Amish participated in six times the physical activity performed by participants in a recent survey of 12 modernized nations.
“The Amish were able to show us just how far we’ve fallen in the last 150 years or so in terms of the amount of physical activity we typically perform,” said David R. Bassett, Ph.D., FACSM, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and lead researcher for the study. “Their lifestyle indicates that physical activity played a critical role in keeping our ancestors fit and healthy.”
So Paul was advocating the benefits of physical exercise in a culture that was much more active than we are. How much more important it is for us to engage in physical exercise! Dr. John J. Ratey, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School commented:
In today’s technology-driven, plasma-screened-in world, it’s easy to forget that we are born movers… because we’ve engineered movement right out of our lives… The sedentary character of modern life is a disruption of our nature and it poses one of the biggest threats to our continued survival… we’re literally killing ourselves.
We could talk about the benefits of regular exercise for hours on end. The purpose of this lesson is to touch on some of the primary scientifically proven benefits. The first benefit of exercise may surprise you. We need to Move For Our Mind.
1. EXERCISE SUPERCHARGES THE BRAIN
In the Introduction of his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. Ratey commented:
We all know that exercise makes us feel better, but most of us have no idea why. We assume it’s because we’re burning off stress or reducing muscle tension or boosting endorphins, and we leave it at that. But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best, and in my view, this benefit of physical activity is far more important-and fascinating-than what it does for the body. Building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially side effects. I often tell my patients that the point of exercise is to build and condition the brain.
Exercise Produces “Miracle Grow” For Your Brain
The latest research indicates exercise can keep the brain sharp into old age and might help prevent Alzheimer’s disease along with other mental disorders that accompany aging. Carl Cotman, Ph.D., of the University of California at Irvine found a link between physical activity and mental ability. In a study published in Nature, Cotman concluded compounds responsible for the brain’s health can be controlled by exercise. Cotman conducted his research on rodents because, he says, “the effects of exercise are nearly identical in humans and rats.” In his study, Cotman monitored “couch” rats and rats that ran on a treadmill. The rats that exercised had much higher levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the most widely distributed growth factor in the brain and one believed to decline with the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Exercise Improves Cognitive and Mental Function
Not only does exercise stimulate the creation of new brain cells (neurons), it also strengthens the connection between those cells. The areas of the brain that are stimulated through exercise are associated with memory and learning. Cotman’s stated:
One of the prominent features of exercise, which is sometimes not appreciated in studies, is an improvement in the rate of learning, and I think that’s a really cool take-home message because it suggests that if you’re in good shape, you may be able to learn and function more efficiently.
A German study conducted in 2007 showed that people learn vocabulary words 20 percent faster after exercise than before exercise and that the rate of learning correlated directly with levels of BDNF in the brain.
Exercise Improves Mood
Exercise can be a great way to lift your mood and improve your emotions. When you exercise, your body feels more relaxed and calm. Find out some of the reasons and the best exercises to lift your mood and balance your emotions.
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals all work together to make you feel good. In addition, after exercising you may feel a sense of accomplishment and your muscles will relax deeper because of the workout – easing tension and strain.
“Moderate intensity aerobic exercise improves mood immediately and those improvements can last up to 12 hours,” concluded study lead researcher Dr. Jeremy Sibold, assistant professor of rehabilitation and movement science at the University of Vermont, Burlington.
Exercise Reduces Stress
Experts agree that one of best ways to reduce stress is through exercise. During the stress response, many chemical reactions occur in the body preparing it to what is known as the “fight or flight” response. Our ancestors were able to burn off our stress through their daily activity, such as defending themselves when an animal attacked, as it was a means of survival. They were able to run away or fight the threat immediately. In today’s society, we do not have to fight a bear or tiger, so we do not have much of an outlet readily at hand to burn off the stress or pent up negative emotions. Therefore, we carry it with us creating emotional and physical problems. Exercise can help by providing an outlet for negative emotions such as worry, irritability, depression, hostility, anger, frustration, and anxiety. Regular exercise provides the opportunity to manage the fight or flight response and helps the body to return to a homeostasis or balanced state more quickly.
Exercise Is An Antidote For Depression
In October of 2000 researchers from Duke University made the New York Times with a study showing that exercise is better than sertraline (Zoloft) at treating depression. What great news! Unfortunately, it was buried on page fourteen of the Health and Fitness section. If exercise came in pill form, it would be plastered across the front page, hailed as the blockbuster drug of the century.
2. EXERCISE SUSTAINS THE BODY
If you watch television at all, you are constantly bombarded by advertisements for every prescription drug under the sun. In an hour of TV, you probably watch at least 10 of these commercials. What amazes me is the number of potential side effects these drugs have. You might be better off with whatever is ailing you than facing side effects ranging from the mild to death. The other problem is that these drugs do not do anything to treat the root cause of the problem; they only alleviate the symptoms. If we would just follow God’s advice to exercise our bodies, we could alleviate the root problem along with the symptoms.
Exercise Boosts Energy and Fights Fatigue
Feeling tired? A walk may be better than a nap for boosting energy and fighting fatigue.
New research suggests regular exercise can increase energy levels even among people suffering from chronic medical conditions associated with fatigue, like cancer and heart disease.
It may seem counterintuitive, but researchers say expending energy by engaging in regular exercise may pay off with increased energy in the long run.
“A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise,” says researcher Patrick O’Connor, PhD, in a news release. “But if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help,” says O’Connor, co-director of the University of Georgia exercise psychology laboratory, in Athens, Ga.
“We live in a society where people are always looking for the next sports drink, energy bar, or cup of coffee that will give them the extra edge to get through the day,” says researcher Tim Puetz, PhD, also of UGA. “But it may be that lacing up your tennis shoes and getting out and doing some physical activity every morning can provide that spark of energy that people are looking for.”
In this study, published in Psychological Bulletin, the researchers analyzed 70 studies on exercise and fatigue involving more than 6,800 people.
“More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise,” says O’Connor. “It’s a very consistent effect.”
The results show that regular exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue.
The average effect was greater than the improvement from using stimulant medications, including ones used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
Researchers say nearly every group studied — from healthy adults, to cancer patients, and those with chronic conditions including diabetes and heart disease — benefited from exercise.
Exercise Helps Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
There is a direct relation between physical inactivity and cardiovascular death.
Lack of physical activity is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Regular physical activity makes your heart, like any other muscle, stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. Regular exercise also prevents heart disease by lowering blood pressure, increasing good HDL cholesterol that transports fat away from the arteries and back to the liver for processing, reducing levels of bad LDL cholesterol that can form fatty deposits in the arteries and by preventing blood clots.
In a long-term Swedish study women and men who were physically active at least twice a week had a 41% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease than those who performed no physical activity.
Exercise Has a Cholesterol Lowering Effect
Physical exercise favourably influences blood cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol.
Exercise itself does not burn off cholesterol like it does with fat. Physical exercise can positively alter cholesterol metabolism by increasing the production and action of several enzymes in the muscles and liver that function to convert some of the cholesterol to a more favorable form, such as HDL-cholesterol.
Exercise Helps Prevent and Control Type 2 Diabetes
There is strong evidence from randomized controlled studies
(e.g. Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study and the Diabetes Prevention Program in the USA) that moderate physical activity combined with weight loss and balanced diet can confer a 50-60% reduction in risk of developing diabetes among those already at high risk.
Regular physical activity may improve insulin resistance and glucose tolerance and is highly effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes in persons with impaired glucose regulation.
Exercise Helps Reduce Blood Pressure
The ways by which exercise can cause a reduction in blood pressure are unclear, but all forms of exercise seem to be effective in reducing blood pressure. Conversely, low physical activity increases the risk of hypertension.
Regular exercise decreases blood pressure in approximately 75% of hypertensive persons with an average decrease of 11 and 8 Hg mm for systolic and diastolic blood pressure respectively.
Regular exercise may decrease blood pressure in overweight and obese persons even without changes in body weight. Aerobic exercise appeares to have a slightly greater effect on blood pressure in hypertensive individuals than in individuals without hypertension.
Exercise Is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Cancer
Evidence exists that physical activity may be associated with a lower risk of several common forms of cancer, most notably colon and breast cancer.
Exercise May Reduce the Risk of Stroke
Research data indicates that moderate and high levels of physical activity may reduce the risk of total, ischemic, and hemorrhagic strokes.
People who have good physical function after the age of 40 may lower their risk of stroke by as much as 50 percent compared to people who are not able to climb stairs, kneel, bend, or lift as well, according to research published in the December 11, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Exercise Increases Bone Strength
An active lifestyle benefits bone density. Regular weight-bearing exercise promotes bone formation, delays bone loss and may protect against osteoporosis (form of bone loss associated with aging).
Exercise Strengthens Your Immune System
Regular moderate exercise may have a beneficial effect on the immune function. The findings from some studies support the possibility that exercise may delay immunosenescence (age dependent decline in immune function).
Exercise Can Help You Sleep Better
If you suffer from poor sleep, daily exercise can make the difference. The natural dip in body temperature five to six hours after exercise may help to fall asleep. Researches from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that regular exercise provides improvement in general quality of sleep, quicker sleep-onset, longer sleep duration and feeling rested in the morning.
Exercise Can Improve Your Sex Life
Regular exercise maintains or improves sex life. Physical improvements in muscle strength and tone, endurance, body composition and cardiovascular function can all enhance sexual functioning in both men and women. Men who exercise regularly are less likely to have erectile dysfunction and impotence than are men who don’t exercise.
Exercise Can Help Reduce Back Pain
By increasing muscle strength and endurance and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise helps to prevent back pain. High quality studies prove that exercise is an effective treatment for recurrent low back pain.
Exercise Has Gastrointestinal Tract Benefits
Exercise is beneficial for persons suffering from cholelithiasis and constipation. Physical activity may reduce the risk of diverticulosis, gastrointestinal haemorrhage, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Exercise is an Alternative to Hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women
High-intensity exercise significantly reduces negative changes related to the menopausal transition.
At this point it should be abundantly clear that physical exercise is good for us. The Apostle Paul repeatedly used physical training to illustrate spiritual truths which indicates that he viewed physical exercise and even competition in a positive light. However, as with many things in life, there are extremes in the area of exercise. Some people focus entirely on spirituality, to the neglect of their physical bodies. Others focus so much attention on the form and shape of their physical bodies that they neglect spiritual growth and maturity. Neither of these indicates a biblical balance. We need to consistenly develop our body, mind, and spirit.