By Mark Dance
A pastor recently asked me for advice on staying physically healthy. Unfortunately, many pastors need some help in this area.
Jayson Byassee, a former pastor and co-author of Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis, says “I’ve been going around saying that clergy are in worse health than the average American—which is hard to do because the average American is not in great health.”
Jeremy Atwood, a pastor in Kentucky who lost 240 pounds after years of unchecked eating, said, “Our pastors are digging their graves with their teeth.”
As I thought about my pastor friend looking for advice, these principles, or health hacks, came to mind. They are transferable to any adult at any stage of life.
I asked my wife Janet to help write this post, as she was a registered dietitian and college professor. Here are four health hacks that we have found helpful over the last three decades.
1. Get focused
Let’s start with the why. The disciplines Janet and I practice are rooted in a desire to “glorify God with our body” and “to love the LORD … with all of our strength” (1 Cor. 6:20; Mark 12:30).We should desire to be healthy so we can “glorify God with our body” and “to love the LORD … with all of our strength.” Click To Tweet
I won’t pretend that we are not additionally motivated by a desire to look and feel as good as possible, but these motives are insufficient for the long haul.
For those who still need further motivation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says regular physical activity promises a lower risk of:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol or triglycerides
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Colon cancer
- Breast cancer
2. Eat healthy
Specifically, the pastor I spoke with said, “In one of our last conversations you said, ‘You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.’ This is my challenge. Is it also true that you can’t eat yourself into healthy muscles, joints, and fitness?”
Despite all you might read in fad diets, real science points to simply doing what you learned in elementary school: eat whole foods from all of the food groups and limit processed foods as much as possible. Janet sometimes asks, “Can you name it’s mama?” (e.g., apples come from an apple tree, eggs come from a chicken, Twinkies come from … ?).
Know how many calories are in the food you eat. Janet and I often read menus online before we go to restaurants. This helps us order appropriately. Portion sizes are typically so large that we usually split an entree and order an extra side salad or vegetable.
We have both found the MyFitnessPal app to be helpful, though there are countless alternatives.
3. Exercise consistently
The pastor also shared how he and his wife struggled to get into exercising and wanted to know some tips for how “we can get the habit going and then build to an increasing intensity.”
Janet recommends walking because it is easy and sustainable. It’s like asking the dentist what the best toothpaste is. The typical answer is, “The one you use.”
The CDC recommends doing at least 75 minutes of cardio per week if it’s vigorous (you can talk but too out of breath to sing), or 150 minutes per week if mild/moderate. Janet and I run three miles, every other day, at a moderate pace.
The pastor also shared their horrors of working with a young personal trainer several years ago. They often lack empathy (or sympathy), but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to add strength training to your healthy habits.
Janet recommends strength exercises at least two days a week, starting with the plank because it works almost every muscle in the body at the same time. You can do it anywhere without special equipment, and it takes less than 10 minutes to finish. Stretch and practice balance because we lose balance as we age.
4. Commit together
Although it is sometimes more convenient to fly solo, your chances of achieving your exercise and eating goals are exponentially greater with a partner—preferably your spouse. Who else will see and celebrate the results of your fitness more than your spouse? (The right answer is “nobody.”)Although it is sometimes more convenient to fly solo, your chances of achieving your exercise and eating goals are exponentially greater with a partner—preferably your spouse. — @markdance Click To Tweet
A healthy lifestyle requires some type of rhythm for consistency. Start by committing 20-30 minutes of exercise every other day. Intensity can increase gradually over time.
Janet has been a constant source of encouragement to me, and I try to reciprocate. We only get one body, so let’s take care of it for God’s sake, for our family’s sake, for our ministry’s sake and for our own sake.