By Maria Fontaine
Staying healthy doesn’t happen automatically; it takes both conscious and physical effort. It also usually involves some sacrifice, some reordering of priorities and forgoing certain things that would be enjoyable but not good for us. Long-term health is a lifelong investment, but it’s the wise thing to do. Better to invest a little each day in strengthening our bodies than to neglect them and suffer serious health problems.
In health matters, as with many other things in life, God won’t do for us what we can and should do ourselves. He expects us to take care of our bodies, and He usually won’t override the negative consequences when we could have made healthier choices but didn’t.
We’re either building up or tearing down our health daily, according to our choices. There are a host of little things that we do each day, often without really thinking about them, which add up and make a big difference in our current and long-term health.
Thankfully, God has laid out some pretty straightforward rules for staying healthy. These fall into three main categories: spiritual, emotional, and physical. The key to the spiritual aspect is in staying right with Him, in finding and following His plan for our lives as best we can. The key to the emotional aspect is in maintaining a positive attitude, which reduces stress, worry, fear, and other negative emotions, all of which take a toll on our health and happiness. The physical aspect is pretty much summed up in “Eat right, sleep right, exercise right.” Some health experts refer to these as the three pillars of physical health.
“Eat right” comes down to following a few fairly simple guidelines (see “Eat Right” Made Simple below)—simple, but not always easy. Changing poor eating habits takes determination and planning, but you’ll probably be surprised at how quickly you develop an appetite for the right kinds of food and lose your appetite for the wrong ones.
“Sleep right” may sound easy enough, but many people these days try to operate with a sleep deficit. It’s true that some people need less sleep than others and that most of us need less sleep as we get older, but the real and perceived pressures of modern living push many of us to try to pack more into our days by sleeping less than the seven or eight hours our bodies need to be in top health. That’s being shortsighted, because we get more out of our waking hours when we’re rested. Plenty of sound, restful sleep stimulates the production and release of the hormone that combats aging.
For people who aren’t in the habit of exercising regularly, that is easy to neglect. It’s hardest to dismiss the need for sleep, because the effects of trying to go without sleep are felt immediately. On the other hand, much like the effects of a poor diet, the bad effects of insufficient exercise can be slower in coming, but without a doubt they will come. Exercise keeps our bodies capable of cleansing and repairing themselves. It also strengthens muscles, bones, and internal organs, and boosts our immune systems. There is scarcely a living cell in our bodies that doesn’t benefit from the right kind of exercise on a regular basis.
The physical/spiritual connection
Even despite our best efforts, we’re bound to get sick sometimes. Sickness is a natural part of life. Putting the physical aspect aside, sickness is something God sometimes uses to strengthen us spiritually, because when we’re weak, we’re more likely to turn to Him for help and thereby be strengthened in spirit and character. When that happens, sickness can actually be the best thing for us at the time.
Usually, however, God wants us to be healthy and will do all He can to make it so. About the hardest thing for Him to protect us from, it seems, is ourselves. Sometimes we bring sickness upon ourselves by our choices, particularly choices to disregard His health rules. He is all-powerful, but He usually allows nature to run its course. Those are the times when, even though He can still bring some good out of that sickness, we suffer unnecessarily. He hopes, of course, that we will learn from the mistake and not repeat it.
If we’re doing our part to stay healthy by eating right, sleeping right, exercising right, and not overdoing in other areas, and we still get sick, we can be sure that God has allowed it for some good reason‚ to accomplish a specific purpose or to teach us some other lesson. We should always ask Him about it in prayer, because when we have His perspective, we’re not only in a much better position to correct the underlying problem, but once we get that squared away with Him, we can have more faith when we ask Him to heal us.
The ground rules are universal, but because of the aging process and because body types and personal preferences vary greatly, what will work best also varies from person to person. Each person’s needs also change over time and as other factors enter in. So how do you know what’s right for you? Many “authorities” offer conflicting information and advice, and sometimes a certain kind of diet or exercise is widely acclaimed for a time, but discredited later. Whose program do you follow? Only your Creator truly knows what’s best for you, and He wants to work with you toward optimum health.
One way He has of speaking to you is through your body, so learn to listen to it. For example, that soreness that gets a little worse each day could be a sign of overdoing or not performing an exercise correctly; avoid injury by switching to another form of exercise until the soreness goes away and you’ve corrected what you were doing wrong.
God will also give you personalized counsel when you take your questions to Him in prayer. He doesn’t normally speak in an audible voice, but He can and will put thoughts in your mind or give you intuitive knowledge. For example, if you have a weak area—your knees, let’s say—He can suggest forms of exercise that don’t exacerbate the problem, while working to strengthen that area gradually. He may speak directly to your mind, or He may lead you to the information you need and show you how to apply it.
(Editor’s note: If you would like to learn more about how to receive answers from God, read Hearing from Heaven.)
Keeping fit is a lifestyle
The goal should be to make getting a proper diet, sleep, and exercise lifelong habits—not just something we do for a few days or a few weeks until we lose a few inches from our waist or drop a dress size or two. Unless we correct the bad habits that brought on those extra inches, they will soon be back. This is why diets and exercise programs that promise quick results are largely unsuccessful: They focus on the short-term instead of lifestyle choices that bring long-term changes. In some cases, you might need to undertake a short-term program to get healthier or lose weight, but then you need to build new long-term health habits if you want to hold on to the ground you’ve gained.
If you’re serious about switching to a healthier lifestyle, the first questions to ask are: “How can I make eating, sleeping, and exercising right my daily norms? What changes do I need to make in my mindset or lifestyle?” and, “What specific program is best for me?”
Replacing poor health habits with good ones takes determination, study, and planning at first, but the payoff in greater vitality soon makes it self-sustaining; we feel so much better that we want to keep doing the things that make us feel that way.
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“Eat Right” Made Simple
- Eat a balanced diet—carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, in the correct proportions.
- Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, including raw vegetables.
- Eat whole grains, rather than refined ones (brown rice or foods made from whole wheat flour, for example, as opposed to polished rice and foods made from white flour).
- Get protein from a variety of sources, such as beans, whole grains, nuts, fish, eggs, dairy, poultry, and meat. (Meat and poultry are often not as healthy as they used to be, due to how livestock and poultry are being raised.)
- Prepare your food in a healthy way. Some general guidelines are: Keep foods as close to their natural state as possible, and minimize the use of processed additives.
- Choose natural, fresh, whole foods over refined, processed, and artificially enhanced foods, when possible.
- Severely limit intake of sugar, and avoid white sugar and sugar substitutes. Use (or choose products that use) raw sugar (unbleached/unrefined) or honey.
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