Staying fit for active ministry: Part 1 in a series

Exercise boosts immunity, benefits brain health, improves sense of well-being

By Denise George
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

God created the human body to move which is why consistent physical activity is essential to good health.

Unfortunately Alabamians tend to live sedentary lives. According to 2018 data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one-third of Alabama adults reported doing no physical activity or exercise other than their regular job in the 30 days preceding the survey. 

The state ranks fourth in the nation for physical inactivity and studies show that individuals with lower income and education levels tend to be more inactive than those with higher income and education levels.

Such trends are disturbing because research affirms that consistent physical activity is essential to good health. Regular exercise discourages chronic disease and health problems in the following ways:

  • Helps control weight by burning calories and increasing metabolic rate
  • Discourages disease and health problems including stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, depression, some types of cancer, anxiety, arthritis and osteoporosis
  • Builds bone density, delivers nutrients and oxygen to body tissues, increases energy levels, improves muscle strength
  • Improves cardiovascular health 
  • Boosts immunity, limiting colds and flu
  • Reduces chronic pain and raises pain tolerance
  • Promotes the body’s production of natural antioxidants, helping to protect skin cells
  • Stimulates blood flow, delaying the appearance of skin aging.

Exercise also provides emotional and brain benefits by:

  • Stimulating brain chemicals that bring feelings of relaxation, happiness and well-being
  • Reducing anxiety, stress and depression
  • Promoting deeper sleep and stimulating energy-depleted recuperative processes 
  • Enhancing mental performance, alertness and work productivity
  • Reducing risk of dementia.

Before beginning a new exercise routine a person should consult a physician and discuss any concerns. 

General recommendations on physical activity suggest an adult needs at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week (or a combination of both). Get started by choosing enjoyable activities that make exercise fun. Start with light exercise and build up. Warm up before exercise to prevent injuries. Rest between exercise days, eat a healthy, nutritious diet and stay hydrated.

Many Alabama Baptist churches are addressing the growing problem of inactivity among its members by providing: 

  • Family life centers promoting exercise for church members and families. Alabama churches provide recreational opportunities that include age-appropriate basketball, volleyball, racquetball, table tennis and baseball leagues, as well as classes in kickboxing, strength training and other body toning and aerobic exercises.
  • Fitness centers offering cardio/weight machine and free weights, indoor and outdoor running/walking tracks and courses.

Wake-Up Workouts

  • Activity groups, such as the Wake-Up Workouts for ladies at Shades Crest Baptist Church, Hoover, where women meet two mornings a week in the church gym and exercise together with music. 

Others include the FIT4U senior adult exercise class at First Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove; the Silver Sneakers group at Spring Hill Baptist Church, Mobile; and the Soul-Fit 4 Seniors class at Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery. 

  • These groups meet several times a week to walk, improve balance and agility, tighten and tone muscles, stretch and participate in low-impact exercise classes.
  • Screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol. 
  • Partnerships with groups like the American Heart Association to educate their congregations on the importance of health and wellness. 

Churches that offer fitness centers and sponsor activity and exercise groups provide more than just physical activity to their congregation and community. For instance, the mission statement of the recreation ministry of Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Dothan, states the program “exists for the purpose of evangelism, discipleship and fellowship … reaching out to church and community in a casual setting to testify to the gospel of God’s grace; encourage seekers/believers to participate in recreation, leisure and sports activities that strengthen their families as well as their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being.”

The number of Alabama churches adding a health or fitness component to their ministry is on the rise. Not only do these programs offer opportunities for members to be more active, they also are encouraging new friendships, strengthening family relationships and bringing people closer to Christ.

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Four types of exercises

1. Simple stretching aids flexibility, helps muscles recover and for older adults maintains range of motion.

2. Aerobic exercise can be swimming, dancing, running and other activities that provide continuous movement.

3. Strength exercises increase muscle strength and include resistance training, sprinting and weightlifting. 

4. Calisthenics are basic movements at medium aerobic pace and include sit-ups, push-ups, squats and jumping jacks.

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Healthier eating habits set better example, enhance ministry longevity

Many Alabamians are losing the weight control battle. Highly processed foods loaded with chemicals, saturated fats and refined sugars remain inexpensive and popular but often lead to expanding waistlines, obesity and poor health.

Alabama now has the sixth highest adult obesity rate in the nation and the ninth highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17. More than 36% of Alabamians are obese. 

The World Health Organization defines obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health,” causing major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases. 

What causes obesity?

Obesity occurs when a body takes in more calories than it can burn through exercise and normal daily activities. These excess calories are stored in the body as fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, excess body weight can be caused by a variety of factors including genetics, family lifestyle, inactivity, unhealthy diet, age, medical problems, certain medications and behavioral or hormonal influences. 

Obesity and health

Obesity affects one’s overall health, often diminishing quality of life and sometimes resulting in disability, depression or social isolation. Serious health problems may result from obesity, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, breathing disorders, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease and osteoarthritis and other health problems. 

But obesity is more than a physical issue. The Bible teaches that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20) and Christians are to be good stewards of their lives and treasures. Failure to be good stewards of physical health is a poor witness to the surrounding culture, according to a 2010 resolution adopted by the Alabama Baptist State Convention on gluttony and self-control.

How can church leaders address the growing problem of obesity?

Activities at church often revolve around food — and unhealthy foods at that like morning coffee and doughnuts, ice cream socials and potluck dinners. Church leaders can help themselves and their church members when they:

  • Plan church activities that don’t include food.
  • Invite nutritionists to conduct seminars, teaching the church’s youth and adults to read and understand food labels in order to make better food choices. 
  • Find healthy substitutes to replace highly processed foods, rich desserts and dishes high in saturated fats at meals served at church.
  • Give members opportunities to move more and have fun by encouraging regular exercise classes for adults and sponsoring active games for youth. 
  • Research medical weight-loss programs in the community and present information to church leaders, staff and members. 
  • Learn about church/faith-based health promotion programs. Such programs provide support to church communities who wish to help members improve their health through education, group support, screening and treatment referrals.
  • Set a good example for church members. Recent reports show that clergy are in worse health than the average American, many suffering from a number of weight-related conditions. 

GuideStone Financial Resources reports that 73% of Southern Baptist pastors who participated in health screenings at [a recent] Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting were obese … and an obese person spends on average $179,000 more in health care than those who weigh less. 

Ministries can suffer

When pastors, church leaders and members struggle with the ill effects of obesity and being overweight ministries can suffer. When individuals take care of their bodies through proper nutrition and teach others in the church to eat healthy and eliminate excess weight, the church can more actively honor God and reach out in Christ’s name in active ministry.