Exercise and Physical Activity

Exercise and Physical ActivityOne day when I was a medical student I walked into the kitchen of my home and pulled a carton of ice cream out of the freezer. There was only a bit left at the bottom, so I grabbed a spoon and started eating right out of the container. My four year old son was sitting at the table watching me, and apparently thought that I was going to eat an entire half gallon of ice cream by myself. He said, “Dada, if you eat all of that you’re going to get diabetes!

I glanced from him to the almost empty carton of ice cream in my hand, and to the spoon in my other hand, and then I thought, He’s right! With my family history I’m going to get diabetes for sure if I don’t make some serious changes starting now. This experience marked the beginning of a new direction for me in my personal health habits.

I started to take the stairs instead of the elevator while making rounds in the hospital, and decreased the amount of candies, treats, and other junk food I ate. Later during my residency and fellowship I started cycling and distance running regularly, and I have kept this up ever since. My new lifestyle took effort and time to develop, but it has been worth it.

Human bodies require proper maintenance in order to function well. Exercise and physical activity are linked to greater health, and lack of these things clearly leads to an increased risk for various disease conditions. Biological science has learned much about how these bodies work, and medical science has taught us how things can go wrong in various diseases. Applying this knowledge to help my patients is what I do in my professional work. But of course there is more to health than just cold science or medicine.

God is the creator of our physical bodies, which are houses or temples for our spirits. The way we take care of our bodies has an effect on our spirits, for good or for bad. Not surprisingly, God has revealed many pearls of wisdom and many commandments about health-related activities. We have already discussed the Word of Wisdom in a previous post, which is the centerpiece of the Lord’s law of health in modern times. The Lord’s directive about physical work has been clear since the fall of Adam: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. (Genesis 3:19)”

In 1831 the Lord gave a revelation to Joseph Smith which included many items of practical instruction. Among them was this verse: “Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:42)”  Former Church President Ezra Taft Benson summarized this commandment with these words: “Man is commanded by God to live by the sweat of his own brow, not someone else’s.” When I read these statements I think about my own responsibility and obligation to support myself and my family through working. There is honor in doing this because it is fulfilling the commandments of God.

Keeping my body healthy is part of how I take responsibility for my own welfare. I am a steward over God’s creation, which is a gift to me, so taking care of my body shows gratitude to God. The Apostle Paul said it in these words:

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)”

Photo from my long run in the hills at sunrise.
Photo from my long run in the hills at sunrise.

A couple of days ago I took a long run early in the morning over dirt trails through some hills near my house. At one point on the trail I paused to admire a glorious sunrise over the mountains to the east. The smell of sagebrush filled the air from the rain which fell a few hours before, and I heard the flapping wings of a flock of crows in the otherwise perfect silence. I felt vigorous and healthy, and my heart was full of thanks to God for his beautiful creations.

Someday I may have health challenges, and if my genes catch up to me then I might even get diabetes someday. But I will do all I can to take good care of my body and to thank God for his amazing gift to me.

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.

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