Are Physical Health and Spiritual Health Connected?
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.
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.
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?
When I started college, I made a study plan to ace my classes and connected with an InterVarsity chapter to grow spiritually. However as I sat in a “freshman success” seminar listening to the presenter explain the importance of caring for mind, bodies, and souls during college, I realized that I wasn’t quite clear on how to plan for making healthy choices on campus.