e Adventists have an interesting way of looking at sin. When the Bible says “Don’t kill,” we don’t. The same with lying, using God’s name in vain, adultery, stealing, etc. Often there’s more of an emphasis on avoiding evil than there is about doing good.
The same is true with health. Most lists of Adventist health practices begin with prohibitions: the things we aren’t allowed to eat, smoke, or drink. And generally speaking, we honor those guidelines pretty well, even religiously.
But again, the emphasis is on what we should avoid, rather than on what we should do. However, diet is only one part of the fitness equation. If we want to live an optimum lifestyle we have to do more than just avoid certain foods; we have to seek health in its totality.
Newsweek recently ran a cover story, “Exercise and the Brain” (Mar. 26, 2007). These words appeared on the opening spread: “Exercise does more than build muscles and help prevent heart disease. Now science shows that it also boosts brainpower—and may offer hope in the battle against Alzheimer’s.” So if exercise benefits the mind and body, shouldn’t we also expect some spiritual benefits as well?
The physical benefits of exercise are well known: improved muscle tone, stronger bones and joints, better cardiovascular health, reduced risk of most kinds of cancers, more energy, better sex, quality sleep, lower health-care costs, etc.
So with all our traditional emphasis on health, and the reinforcement of scientific evidence, why is it that we invest so little time in exercise? Other than an occasional sermon, a mention in a health column or magazine, or an editorial once a year, Adventists are almost completely silent on the benefits of exercise.
Perhaps we don’t hear much about it because it doesn’t conform to our traditional health emphases: don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t smoke. Maybe we cherish the notion that a rigid adherence to good food, prepared healthfully, is enough to protect us from disease.
But the avoidance of certain foods and habits does not, by itself, assure optimum health. For that you have to drag your walking, running, or hiking shoes out of the closet; remove the clothes and other stuff hanging from your treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical trainer; or get your rake, hoe, spade, and pruning shears out of the garden shed and work up a sweat.
Face it: our modern society, with its reliance on motor vehicles, escalators, television remote controls, dishwashers, and riding lawn mowers promises more convenience but robs us of the physical activity that brings lasting, healthful results. And don’t look for any positive reinforcement from the food service industry; serving sizes in most restaurants are 15 to 20 percent larger today than they were 25 years ago, making it harder to maintain an ideal weight even when we do exercise.
In the meantime, prescription and over-the-counter medications (not to mention the quack weight-loss supplements sold on television infomercials) generate billions of dollars for their manufacturers and promise quick, pain-free, effortless results (side effects may include sleeplessness, impotence, nausea, dry mouth, feelings of irritability, or all of the above; should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women, or anyone who has a mother).
No doubt about it, exercise takes effort; it takes will. But it doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Find something you enjoy—walking, biking, swimming, yard work—and do it on a regular basis, at least three days a week, 30 to 40 minutes a day. You may never have “Abs or Buns of Steel,” but you should notice a decrease in the risk factors that contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, stroke, and other lifestyle-related diseases. Plus, the time you spend in God’s nature provides opportunities to marvel in His love and offer Him your praise.
The human body was made for activity. It’s part of a package that includes spiritual, social, and emotional components, as well as physical. And while we often hear about what we should avoid, remember it’s not just eating and drinking the wrong things we have to worry about—the sins of commission; not doing what we should—the sin of omission—is just as destructive.