The Common Good

'Health and Fitness Are Better Than Any Gold'

Life and the body require exertion. There was a time -- and this is still the case in some places on earth -- when eating required physical effort. Human beings hunt, fish, forage, plant, reap, or shop every day. It takes physical work to gather wood or make charcoal to start and sustain a fire. People, mostly women, carry water from wells or streams that are often some distance from home. The grain must be ground by hand before it is ready to make into bread. There is pounding and stirring and kneading and washing and peeling and chopping. Birds must be plucked; fish cleaned; animals skinned and butchered. When the work of one meal is finished, one must begin work for the next.

In today's industrialized nations, food comes with little physical activity. We drive to the store to get food that requires little effort to prepare. We live in an instant, microwave, fast food world. Our water comes with the turn of the tap and fire or heat comes with the push of a button or turn of a knob. Yet we still eat as if we lived lives of hard physical work. This means we consume more food than it takes to fuel our sedentary lives; thus we gain weight.

We cannot maintain good health unless we exercise. There is just no way around this fact. Exercise is an imperative.

Deciding which exercise regime is right for each of us is a personal choice. Each of us ought to understand our own temperament and interests before we decide on which physical discipline we will practice. Some of us may choose a number of different ways to work out. Whatever we choose, however, needs to keep the body strong, flexible, and in good cardio-vascular health. And, the older we get, the MORE we have to exercise because our metabolism slows down.

One problem with committing to a physical discipline is finding the time in our busy days to devote to it. We rise early to get ourselves and our families to work and/or school; we work all day; we come home mentally and physically exhausted; there is dinner to prepare, housework to do, homework to supervise. There may be a meeting to attend in the evening. Where do we fit in exercise? Again, each of us has to discover what works best in our life.

I practice yoga in the morning and most afternoons before dinner. I find that it takes an extra act of will to do my afternoon session. But once it is done, I am refreshed to complete the remainder of the day's obligations, and I snack less in the evening. I tell myself that my exercise regimen is another way to honor God and to give praise and thanksgiving for the gift that is the body.

For Protestants, the apocryphal book of Sirach is not canonical. However, there is still wisdom to be found there. It says: "Health and fitness are better than any gold, and a robust body than countless riches. There is no wealth better than health of body, and no gladness above joy of heart." (Sirach 30: 15-16)

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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