Churches Nurture Health and Faith in Fitness Programs

Churches around the country are offering their congregations Bible-based fitness programs to help them be good stewards of both body and spirit.

A recent poll by the Center for Disease Control showed that more than one in five people are getting the recommended 30 minutes of exercise or more at a time on a regular basis.

Other studies by the CDC also found that one-third of Americans are obese, meaning over 72 million people in the country have a higher-than-average Body Mass Index.

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Churchgoers are certainly not immune to the consequences of leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Many have taken a Bible-based approach to the matter and offer fitness programs that incorporate Bible lessons along the way.

For the Lenten and Easter season this year, Germantown United Methodist Church in Memphis introduced the "On the Move in Congregations" fitness program its members, The Commercial Appeal reported.

The six-week program, offered by the Memphis-based Church Health Center, is "designed specially for congregations and small groups looking for a fitness program with both spiritual and physical applications," Carissa Nowak, health promotion coordinator for CHC, told the paper.

Around 150 members of Germantown participated in the program which helps participants achieve three goals: Walk an extra 2,000 steps a day, trim 100 calories off their daily diets and consume three low-fat dairy servings daily. Each was also given a pedometer to monitor their progress.

Participants also received a meditation journal that carried the theme "Walking with Abraham and Sarah," which contained Bible verses and allowed them to track their results. The CHC also offers a "Walking with Jesus" version.

"It got so many people jump-started on their fitness routines right at the beginning of the year and it made them more aware of how little calcium they were actually getting each day. It was very eye-opening for them," Sue Cleveland, who led the program at Germantown church, shared to the Appeal.

She remarked that the Abraham and Sarah theme was perfect for the congregation since they had just finished a sermon series on the topic.

The Appeal reported that other churches in the area will also implement On the Move this fall. Nowack told the paper that program materials have been shipped to United Methodist Churches in Minnesota and New Mexico, as well as groups in Missouri and Wisconsin.

Some churches emphasize fitness to their members by making exercise opportunities more accessible.

Fellowship Church of Dallas, whose pastor Ed Young was a former basketball player at Florida State University, even installed state-of-the-art fitness facilities. The church provides basketball cages, a rock-climbing wall and a walking trail around a lake. Additionally, the church has a variety of sports clubs and holds team competitions, reported a Washington Post article by Henry Brinton, co-author with Vik Khanna of Ten Commandments of Faith and Fitness.

Another example of health and faith intersecting in churches is the "Fit for the Kingdom" ministry program found at First Baptist Church of Glenarden (FBCG) in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

In this program, church members learn about how to overcome their addiction to food through Bible studies while controlling their food intake and portions. The idea behind the program is that participants grow in faith as their waist size shrinks.

"A core conviction of mine is that God has given each of us the gift of a body, and he wants us to take good care of it," said Brinton.

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