10 Keys to Happiness – Exercising

“10 Keys to Happiness – Exercising”

This is the third reflection on the ’10 keys to happiness” promoted by “Action for happiness”(AfH). You will see that the initial letters of each key spell out GREAT DREAM. AfH have identified these as activities which promote mental health and wellbeing.

In this series we are exploring how this psychologically and clinically well researched menu compares with a Biblical perspective. The plan isn’t to produce something comprehensive – more a taster to whet your appetite, and stimulate your own exploration.

In this reflection we are looking at exercising. I don’t know about you, but I have always enjoyed exercise – running, cricket, squash, walking – even though it gets harder as the years go by.

“When I was a young lad” relaxation meant exercise. It was the way we entertained ourselves. In this era of playstation and xbox and internet, that’s not so much the case. In many ways the way we live our lives in the west has changed from one which had inbuilt activity, to one where even work is home based – especially in this pandemic – and there is a lot of sitting.

But did you know human beings are designed to move. It’s part of why it’s important to incorporate movement in your day. Stand up more – sitting is bad for your health. “Try to limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23.5 hours a day.” Dr Mike Evans says. Sounds easy, but it can take some will power. “Our bodies are our gardens  – our wills are our gardeners” advises Shakespeare in Othello.

But exercising is more than just about keeping your body in good shape, it’s about improving our minds and spirits as well. Research has demonstrated that regular activity will provide an endorphin boost, and increase confidence. It instantly improves our mood and can even lift us out of a depression. Exercise has been described as “miracle grow for the brain” – it literally stimulates the growth of brain cells. Put simply, being active makes us happier, as well as being good for our physical health.

A biblical take on exercise is more difficult to compose. I suspect that life for most people in such an agricultural society was so physical, that exercise was taken as a given. Compiling a list of Old Testament athletes is not easy!

It is interesting to note that in Jesus’s day, there was a mixed view about the body. There was a Greek proverb – “the body is a tomb”. Perhaps we can see this ambivalence coming out in Christian theology. “The world, the flesh, and the devil” are often traditionally described as the three enemies of the soul. As the sources of temptation, they are viewed as in opposition to the Trinity.

However, perhaps a more accurate view comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 6, where Paul says “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” That phrase “temple of the Holy Spirit” is a powerful reminder of the sanctity of the body. That thought is reinforced by the reality that, as John says in his prologue “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. There can be no greater endorsement of our bodies than God taking on human flesh Himself.

So, as Christians we do have a responsibility to take care of our bodies, and to keep them fit. As my mum used to say “look after your feet and your feet will look after you.” There is, too, this clear connect between body, and mind and spirit? Exercising is about looking after the whole of us.

Let me finish with one or two tips and pointers:-

  • Get the action for happiness app. which has a daily activity.
  • The gardening for Health Charity, THRIVE suggests that 15 minutes a day gardening can reduce stress. Download their wellbeing activity calendar.
  • Take the advice of Hippocrates “All people in a bad mood should go for a walk, and if it does not improve, walk again.”
  • Action for Happiness emphasises the importance of sleep; the importance of the right food; the importance of natural light – exercise outside.

Each of the keys to happiness has its own poster with promotional slogan. For exercising it’s “Be active, relax, rest – repeat daily”   Happy exercising!