What does the Bible have to say about exercise and fitness? These 5 Scripture verses are powerful encouragements for focusing your discipline or helping you with the motivation to get started.
Glorify God in Your Body
The Church teaches that the body is good—very good, in fact! We’re more than just bodies, though. We are body and soul, and, consequently, are called to honor both! St. Paul asks,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20)
And later on in First Corinthians, he emphasizes the same point, saying,
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 12:16)
We “glorify God in [our bodies]” when we make good choices regarding our physical health, choices that cultivate virtue. Exercise, eating healthy foods, getting the right amount of sleep, and limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption all help us to glorify God in our bodies. If we are temples of the Holy Spirit, why would we not treat our bodies with dignity and care?
Pray and Work Like an Athlete
St. Paul often analogized athletics to the spiritual life. He says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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 9:24-27)
Paul’s words tell us to pray and work with mission, vision, and intention. We aren’t “running aimlessly.” In both exercise and the spiritual life, we should practice self-control and discipline while keeping our ultimate goal before us: Heaven.
Train Yourself with Discipline
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11)
Starting a workout habit isn’t easy. Working out when you are tired or busy sometimes seems impossible. But, as St. Paul reminds us, every choice we make cultivates either virtue or vice. If we chose to discipline our bodies by working out and stretching our physical limits, even though it might be tough in the moment, we will see the positive fruit of our choices in the long run.
St. Teresa of Avila talks about how a sure antidote for spiritual dryness is to persevere in prayer and to keep up old habits of prayer, even when we don’t feel like God is responding to us. Although it’s difficult for us to see when we feel spiritually dry, we are still growing closer to God.
Compare that to exercise—sometimes it feels like we aren’t seeing changes in our physique, the distances we’re able to run, and the weights we’re able to lift. Yet an athlete wouldn’t quit just because she’s not seeing results! That would be ruinous in the long run. A true athlete would persevere through the tough spots and be better for it. Rather than losing all progress, she’ll keep up with her training and eventually see the results reflected in her abilities.
Present Your Bodies as a Living Sacrifice
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1)
What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
To sacrifice is to lay down your life–your own desires, and even your very self. In this case, St. Paul specifically reminds us to present our bodies as a sacrifice to the Lord. If we truly believe that God has given us all that we have, then it only seems natural to respond to His gifts by using them to glorify Him. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him” (CCC 358).
To be a living sacrifice is to continually choose to discipline our bodies and our passions, until choosing virtue–or pushing yourself to do just a few more reps–is as easy as breathing.
Keep at It
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …” (Heb 12:1)
What does it mean to run with perseverance the race before us? Even when things get tough (in our workouts, or in life!), set aside those things that are holding you back, and keep going! There will always be moments when it’s tough to choose to work out, or eat well, or to choose virtue over sin. But, with God’s help, we can persevere through any challenge.
Prayer Before Workout
This Scripture-based prayer draws from the wisdom of and teaching of our Christian tradition to help remind you of the object of your exercise: union with Him!
Please be with me as I begin this workout.
Strengthen my limbs,
Help me to glorify You with my body,
And bring me ever closer to You in all that I do.
Remind me that I am Your beloved child,
That You are working for my good,
And that the discipline I am cultivating now
Will bear fruit in eternity.
Help me to be a living sacrifice for You
And a temple of Your Spirit.
St. John Paul II, pray for us!