Why We’re Not Exercising Enough
Some of us, if we are disciplined or so inclined, work out. I used to go to the gym three times a week. However, I have recently begun to rethink the value of exercise, and I have concluded that I, and Americans in general, don’t exercise nearly enough, even those who spend their lives in gyms.
You see, we have forgotten how to exercise the whole of our being. A few of us may exercise our bodies, but even less exercise our minds and fewer still our spirits. Working out isn’t enough, and sadly, most of us don’t even bother to do that much.
What is exercise?
Most people, when asked to define exercise, would probably define it as working out. However, this is an overly narrow and restrictive definition. In truth, exercise is subjection to the will. There may be many reasons and many ways to do this, but exercise boils down to subjecting x, y, or z to the will.
Why exercise your body?
Perhaps you have not been convinced that you need to exercise your body. I know that I often think, “Genetically, I am programmed to be skinny. I don’t need to work out. My metabolism won’t let me get fat.”
Maybe so, but if I only exercise for the sake of appearances, then I am missing some of the most important reasons to exercise. First, you can exercise for the sake of your health. This is a good reason, but I would argue that there are better and more inclusive reasons to exercise. Of course, bodily health is important for many functions, so it is definitely good to keep yourself in shape.
Second, you can exercise for the very sake of subjecting your body to your will. When I run, many times I have to force myself to keep going because everything in my body tells me to stop. Furthermore, it is this reason which illustrates that bodily exercise can be about more than working out. Abstinence, fasting, and avoiding excess, for example, are forms of exercise.
I believe that the second reason, in fact, is the most in line with what bodily exercise truly is: the subjection of the body to the will. Consequently, when you exercise for the purpose of subjecting the body to the will, you are exercising for the fullest reason. Working out is only one way to exercise, and though it may be important, we should not limit our exercise to muscular exertion.
We should also subject our body to our wills in other ways. We should subject them, not just in action, but in inaction as well. We shouldn’t just force our body to run a 5k, we should force it to not follow any and every sexual, culinary, or climatic desire. This will help to create balance and harmony within the whole of our beings.
Why exercise your mind?
Besides bodily exercise, there is mental exercise. This can range from solving mathematical formulae to forcing your thoughts to maintain one line of reasoning for a length of time. As with bodily exercise, there are a few reasons to perform these tasks.
First, using your mind will strengthen it. Your ability to recognize patterns, reach logical conclusions quickly and accurately, and to perceive the world around you will be enhanced. Also, putting your mind through tough work can help stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Second, these tasks can be very tiring, and forcing yourself to continue helps to subjugate your mind to your will. This is important if you wish to “take every thought captive.” Also, this is crucial if we are to avoid pride, rage, blind love, or any other sort of emotion which normally has free range over the mind.
Why exercise your spirit?
We are spiritual beings. Genesis tells us that we are created in God’s image, possessing a spirit. Like God, we are creative. Furthermore, we were created with a purpose, and our spirit man can only thrive when fulfilling that purpose. Genesis tells us that man is created to have dominion over the earth. Essentially, it is our purpose to make the world a more garden-like place.
If we begin working in our spiritual capacity, we will strengthen our spirit. When engaged in making the world a more beautiful, just, or peaceful place, our spirits thrive. This will, in turn, make us more spiritually aware and in tune with God’s will for our lives.
Subjecting our spirits to do the tasks they were created to do is crucial for spiritual growth, and is incredibly critical if we are to avoid contributing to the consequences of the fall. We must actively exercise our spirit in creating beauty, justice, and peace if we are to avoid creating something which is ugly, unjust, and volatile.
Why aren’t we exercising enough? Because we have a reductionistic view of exercise that limits it to muscular activity. We forget that we can, and should, exercise so much more than just our bodies. We must exercise our minds and our spirits. We must pursue wholesome exercise.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Greek concept of sophrosyne. If we are to live with sophrosyne (balance, moderation, temperance), we must learn to subjugate our bodies, minds, and spirits to the tasks that they were created to do. We should not allow any one part of our whole to override the others or to fall into disuse. We cannot allow ourselves to follow all of our bodily passions, nor can we let our minds fall prey to falsehood or arrogance, neither can we create at every whim, for then we would create pain and disorder. Instead, we must exercise our whole beings, a monumental task.