Formula of Five: Health and Fitness

June 24, 2014

by Peter Amsterdam

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Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.[1]

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit,[2] and God has commissioned us to care for our bodies well and faithfully. We’re called to glorify God in our bodies,[3] because we are bought with a price. Jesus paid a hefty price to make us His own, so we should put in the needed effort toward caring for our health.

Our health is important. This we know. This isn’t a new concept. Our health affects our quality of life, our ministries, our relationships, and our ability to make a living, care for our family, and serve the community.

Doing our part to care for our health is a constant challenge for Maria and me, and I’m guessing it may be for you too. With that in mind, I thought that a brief review of some of the important tenets of health and fitness could be helpful. I’ve boiled these down to five key elements, but depending on your own situation and health needs, you will likely be led to put more attention on some than on others.

Also, I admit that I’m not an authority on health and fitness. I’m not a medical doctor or personal trainer. The five elements I’m covering are brief suggestions covering some of the points that are generally considered fundamental to health and fitness. However, I suggest you seek the Lord as to what is the priority for you, depending on your age and your overall health and medical condition. I also recommend you consult your doctor before embarking on any major changes in your diet or health routine. There will always be controversy and differing opinions when it comes to health matters. As always, you must make your own decisions based on what works for you and your body, considering your circumstances and your health needs.

The Lord instructed us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.[4] Think of that: we are to love ourselves. And taking good care of our bodies and health is a natural outgrowth of loving ourselves and appreciating the gift of life that God has given to us.

If you’re like me, you might be tempted to feel that you can’t afford to tune in to these, either because it costs too much or takes too long. It can be a struggle to make space and time to invest in your health. I feel that way sometimes too. But ultimately, working to stay in good health can prevent a breakdown in your health, which can be far more disruptive and costly. If you get sick, especially with a serious chronic illness, it will likely cost you more in the long run—either in treatment or in recovery time.

Okay, now let’s look at five points in our formula for good health and fitness.

Number 1. Make healthy choices.

One of the keys to maintaining health and fitness is the food you choose to eat. The Bible says:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”[5]

Over the last few decades there have been many popular diets and eating philosophies, but with additional research, some of the previous recommendations for healthy eating have undergone some significant changes. Previously there was a lot of emphasis on low-fat diets, and that has resulted in people eating a lot more sugar and processed foods and grains (such as bread, pasta, etc.). This has not had good results overall.

If you want to have well-balanced food choices that generally lead to good health, for the most part you would:

  • Eat a wide variety of real foods that you prepare yourself or that are prepared by another person. This means you avoid processed foods, or foods already prepared in a box or ready to microwave.
  • Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, in a variety of colors.
  • Eat healthy oils with omega-3s such as those from fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados, as well as extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil.
  • Also, protect your immune system with healthy gut flora by avoiding excessive or unnecessary use of antibiotics and eating a balanced diet that is low in sugar and refined grains (white flour, white rice) and that includes natural probiotics (good bacteria) such as homemade, unsweetened yogurt and other fermented foods.
  • It’s also vitally important to drink plenty of good-quality pure water that ideally does not contain chlorine or fluoride. Approximately eight eight-ounce glasses a day is a good amount for an average-size adult living in a moderate climate.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. And of course, don’t smoke.

Number 2. Maintain proper weight.

If you’re someone who struggles with excessive weight or obesity, then you know it’s a tough battle to fight. I have to pay attention to my weight; otherwise I tend to gain weight.

Being overweight is a far-reaching problem. According to a recent BBC report, worldwide obesity has quadrupled since 1980.[6]

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for illnesses such as:

  • cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke)
  • diabetes
  • musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis—a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints)
  • and some types of cancer.

Overweight and obesity (and the diseases associated with these conditions) are largely preventable. Reversing these conditions is not easy, but by God’s grace and with His help, it is possible. The Bible promises, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”[7]

Point number three is one I’d venture to say we all struggle with from time to time…

Number 3. Exercise regularly.

Another “must do” if you wish to keep your weight at a healthy level is exercise. But that’s not the only benefit. Exercise also builds health in many other ways.


  • Increases energy.
  • Improves muscular strength, tone, and endurance.
  • Makes you feel happier, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Helps you look and feel younger.
  • Decreases body fat and strengthens bones.
  • Sharpens focus, increases productivity, and stimulates creativity.
  • Promotes restful sleep.
  • Enhances intimacy and relationships.
  • Enhances immune function.
  • Increases joint mobility.
  • Improves posture.
  • Treats and prevents more than 40 chronic diseases.[8]       

Granted, it’s difficult to exercise regularly. We all have a lot of excuses. It helps to find joy in your choice of movement, if possible, so that exercise is something you look forward to. Try to have fun as you exercise.

Another thing that really helps is to have a partner to exercise with. Of course, I know that’s not always possible, but when it is, not only is it more enjoyable to have company as you work out, but an exercise partner will also serve as an accountability check.

The key is to be active, to move, and to move often. “According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting is now the new smoking. Sitting too long, up to three or four hours at a time, is now equivalent to smoking up to a pack and a half of cigarettes a DAY.”[9]

Your choice of type and intensity of exercise is a personal one, depending on your age, preferences, available opportunities, and physical condition or limitations. But a balanced exercise program should, as much as possible, include the following activities:

  • Aerobic exercise: such things as power walking, jogging, or running, dancing, kick boxing or other sports.
  • High intensity interval training two or three times a week, which could include such activities as sprinting, climbing stairs, using an elliptical with strong resistance, etc. The principle of interval training is to repeatedly push yourself to your maximum exertion (where your heart rate is at your anaerobic level) for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by 90 seconds of recovery. You repeat this cycle three or four times.
  • Strength training to build muscle.
  • Core strengthening exercises, such as lunges, squats, sit-ups, etc.
  • Daily stretching, slowly and carefully, not to the point of pain.

We often forget that it’s important to exercise as often as possible outside in sunshine. Having the sun on your skin is the only way to ensure you will get enough vitamin D, which is essential to good health.

Now on to point number four, which is:

Number 4. Minimize stress.

Stress comes into all our lives as a result of many different concerns, such as sickness, chronic pain, financial problems, work matters, relationship conflicts, parenting issues, and the list goes on.

Chronic prolonged stress is considered the root cause of many serious illnesses.

“If untreated, consistently high stress could become a chronic condition, which can result in serious health problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can even contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity, or exacerbate existing illnesses.”[10]

Reducing the stress in our lives can be accomplished in many different ways, and we each need to find what works for us personally. I often feel stressed when I’ve overextended myself, when I’m too busy, or have too many appointments and obligations. When that happens and I find myself feeling stressed, I try to make a conscious effort to slow down, to rest and relax more, to take more time with the Lord. Of course, having faith helps reduce stress and bring calm to your heart, mind, body, and spirit.

The point is, we need to realize that chronic stress is not healthy; it’s not a “merit badge” or a symbol that we’re living a “sacrificial life.” We need to monitor and minimize stress if we want to stay healthy and strong for as long as possible.

Two encouraging Bible promises that I find helpful to claim when I’m feeling stressed are:

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22).

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Another key aspect of minimizing stress is getting sufficient sleep, which is generally considered between seven to nine hours a night. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss. Getting too little sleep can also result in chronic inflammation, foggy thinking, poor memory, slower reaction time, higher levels of stress, a weakened immune system, and even overeating, which leads to obesity.

So if you’re in the habit of “burning the midnight oil” with work or study or even recreational activities such as watching TV, it would be well worth taking a good look at your schedule to see how you can get more good quality sleep on a consistent basis. There are comforting promises in the Word about rest and sleep that are ours to claim, such as “Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people.”[11] And Proverbs 3:24 says: “When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

Our last point is…

Number 5. Enjoy life, be happy, and have a positive outlook!

I encourage you to keep the faith, accentuate the positive, and celebrate your victories. As this verse in Philippians instructs us:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”[12]

Here is some interesting insight from an article titled “Happiness Is Key to Longer Life”:

A professor from Rotterdam's Erasmus University [stated]: Happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill. …

After reviewing 30 studies carried out worldwide over periods ranging from one to 60 years, the Dutch professor said the effects of happiness on longevity were comparable to that of smoking or not.

That special flair for feeling good, he said, could lengthen life by between 7.5 and 10 years....

Happy people were more inclined to watch their weight, were more perceptive of symptoms of illness, tended to be more moderate with smoking and drinking, and generally lived healthier lives.

They were also more active, more open to the world, more self-confident, made better choices and built more social networks.[13]

I suggest you take time to pray about your personal situation and level of health and see if the Lord leads you to improve in any of these areas. However, please try to avoid extremes. It’s better to make manageable adjustments that are possible to maintain than to try to embark on a radical overhaul of your present health and fitness standard. Start by making small gradual changes; don’t set yourself up for disappointment by taking on too much. Any improvement is worthwhile and should be celebrated as a win.

To wrap this up, let’s review these five fundamental points for health and fitness:

  1. Make healthy choices.
  2. Maintain proper weight.
  3. Exercise regularly.
  4. Minimize stress.
  5. Enjoy life, be happy, and have a positive outlook.

I’m going to close with a few lines from the first part of Rick Warren’s book, The Daniel Plan:

Health is about more than a program. Health comes from recognizing and using God’s power in your life and treating your body and mind with the care that he intended.

Where God guides, he provides. What he calls you to do, he equips you to do. He doesn’t need your strength and willpower but he does need your commitment. He wants you to live an abundant life that includes a vibrant faith, a vibrant body and a vibrant mind. But you must rely on Jesus.

For too many of us, unhealthy choices have left us without the mental, physical, or spiritual energy to embrace what God has put us on this planet to do…. But it’s never too late.

You have to believe you can get healthy even if you can’t see it yet. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

…You will never reach your optimum health without paying attention to the spiritual dimensions of your life. … [The key] is not in psyching yourself up, but in relaxing in God’s grace so that he can do through you what he desires to do.[14]

Being in good health and maintaining a lifelong plan of exercise, weight management, wise food choices and a well-balanced lifestyle is more than we can do in our own willpower and discipline. We need the Lord’s strength and perseverance, which He is happy to give us. Philippians 4:13 promises:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Even if you feel it’s impossible to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle overall, it’s not impossible with God. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”[15]

So I encourage you to look to the Lord and let His strength give you the fortitude, inspiration, and perseverance that you need. He’s already helped each of us to make many good decisions in our lives, and He’s still eager to work with us so we can continue to progress.

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[16]

And that’s a wonderful thing! Praise the Lord!

[1] 3 John 2. All verses are ESV unless otherwise indicated.

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:16–17.

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:19–20.

[4] Matthew 22:39.

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[6]Obesity quadruples to nearly one billion in developing world,” BBC News, 2 January 2014, accessed June 12, 2014.

[7] Galatians 6:9.

[8] This list is based on one in Rick Warren’s book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 41.

[9] Ibid., 163, based on the following article: James Vlashos, “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?The New York Times, April 14, 2011.

[10] Alexandra Sifferlin, “The Most Stressed-Out Generation? Young Adults,” TIME, Feb. 7, 2013, accessed June 12, 2014.

[11] 1 Kings 8:56.

[12] Philippians 4:8.

[13] “Happiness is key to longer life,” AFP, August 14, 2008.

[14] Warren, Daniel Plan, 33–34, 52.

[15] Matthew 19:26.

[16] Philippians 1:6.