The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

November 05, 2013

Are Physical Health and Spiritual Health Connected?

physical health and spiritual health
By: 
Steven Grahmann

Six years ago, I was stuck in a major spiritual rut.

I didn’t feel motivated to do much of anything and felt like I was walking around in a constant haze. “I’ll do it later” became my unintentional mantra, especially when it came to things like reading the Bible or connecting with God in personal quiet times. Many of the things that used to bring me joy weren’t cutting it anymore. Basically, it was hard to engage, hard to listen, hard to pray, hard to interact with people and with Jesus.

Around that time, I was also becoming increasingly physically unhealthy—as in overweight, and on my way to fat. The accumulating flab in my neck was causing me to snore, so I was getting to the point where I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up feeling rested. And I literally wasn’t watching what I ate (fast food not only gets to your car fast, it gets in your mouth fast—so fast you barely see it). Food didn’t even taste good to me anymore. I was also spending a lot of time sitting—in front of a computer, in front of a TV, in front of a stack of paperwork—and hardly any time on my feet.

It wasn’t until I starting training for a half-marathon that I realized that these two things—my physical health and my spiritual health—were connected.

The Dare

My road to health started with a dare from a friend to run a half-marathon. That stirred something in me, so I signed up for one the following week, not realizing that it was 13.1 miles. (I’m glad I didn’t, or I probably wouldn’t have signed up!) I started running and, because the online running forums said to, I started eating better—no driving thru and more cooking.

And I started noticing changes. I lost some weight. I stopped snoring. I started sleeping better (mostly because the running took it all out of me and I was conked out by ten). I felt energized, and light, and alive.

The Surprise

Then something else happened, something I didn’t expect. The spiritual haze lifted. I started following through with my commitments to spend time with Jesus, even though it was inconvenient, in part because I was forcing myself to run each day even though I didn’t want to. Moreover, while I was out on runs, connecting with my body and nature and God, I started praying in new ways. I found joy in Jesus again (and in food again as I started eating healthier). I became more determined and motivated and engaged and present, not only physically but spiritually as well.

The fact that God gave me a soul and a body to take care of became significant. If I think I can care about one and not the other (and worse, if I think God cares about one and not the other), I’m fooling myself. I want to be a good steward of my spiritual self as well as my physical self because I know these are both gifts from God and deeply connected. And I believe that if you want to get serious about your spiritual health, you can’t ignore your physical health.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Whole Self

Staying physically healthy can be hard (trust me, I know)! So here are some tips I’ve learned over the course of the past six years that I hope will help you in your journey toward physical and health.

1. Go for a run. Exercising can be hard. But if I can turn my life around by going for a run, you can too. Decide that you’re going to do something hard and do it. There are plenty of programs out there, like the “Couch to 5k” program, designed to help beginners ease into running rather than trying to run 10 miles and crashing. I speak with confidence and from experience when I say that going outside and moving in a forward direction for a set amount of time, for several days in a row, will change your life.

2. See your food. I was going to say “watch what you eat,” but your mom’s probably said that so often I’m afraid you might not even hear it anymore. The truth remains, though: pay attention to what you’re putting into your body. Don’t just shovel stuff in. How?

  • Eat at regular times each day.
  • Sit down when you’re eating and chew.
  • Watch your portion sizes, except when it comes to vegetables. Eat as many of those as you want.
  • Don’t eat anything straight out of a bag, or you’ll end up eating the entire bag.
  • And my favorite: learn about food. The more I learn about food and what it does to help or hurt my body, the better I eat. Knowledge really is power.

3. Go to sleep. When I was in college, I slept an average of five hours per night. That’s four hours below the recommended average. I actually thought that was something to brag about. Then I graduated, and it literally took me years to recover and reset my body rhythms. I realized that I would have gotten a lot more out of my college experience if I’d gotten better sleep then, and the same applies today. When I sleep better, I interact with people better. I connect with Jesus better. I function better. I feel better. I pray better. So go to sleep!

How have you seen the spiritual and physical linked in your faith journey? Are there ways you need to change how you’re taking care of your body in order to take care of your spirit? Leave us a comment!


Steven Grahmann is the Area Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Arizona and has been on staff for 13 years. He lives in Flagstaff with his wife, Jessica, and two boys. He’s now completed seven half-marathons and two full marathons.

Comments

As Wendell Berry has put it, "you don't have a soul, you *are* a soul." Steven rightly notes that we're whole people, body mind and spirit. Saying that our bodies don't have any relation to our spiritual lives denies that wholeness. It splits us apart in an almost Gnostic way, like we're spirits in some kind of meat suit. Taking care of your physical body and helath is one way of not only acknowledging this whole person-ness, but also paying deference to the consequences that neglecting one aspect can have for the others. -- Drew
I had the opportunity to meet Steven and his wife this year at chapter camp. I must say he is in great shape both spiritually and physically! I must totally agree with you Steven. When I was in High school i was involved in sports a lot. I was also involved in my church but I wouldn't consider myself very spiritual. When I got in college I felt tired all the time and suddenly began to take a lot of naps which I had never done. I was in a horrible position in my spiritual life and my physical life was very mediocre. I decided to run my first 10k (without training) and I finished under 50min which for a guy 160lbs and 17 years old was alright. I decided to start training for a full marathon so I let my dad kind of coach me for the next 3 months. I was running 10k in the morning at 6 am and 10k in the afternoon at 6pm. I had to eat very well if not my parents would not let me run at all. I felt in the best shape of my life and I finished the marathon under 3:30 hrs! I was very happy. I had also noticed that I was a lot more involved in my own church and I was even anxious to join a college ministry, it was then that I learned about InterVarsity at UTEP. I have always thought I function a lot better if I am in constant physical training which inspires me to step up my spiritual training as well. I am now the president for my chapter and I run triathlons and I am currently training for my first Ironman 70.3 next year. God has showed me that he built something beautiful that I can use to honor him in so many ways. Thank you Steven for this great article!

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