Can Faith Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals?

Fitbit community during a Fitbit local workoutYou might bring faith to your spiritual practice, but what about to your workout routine? Never thought about it, you say? Perhaps you should. A new trend is emerging, which uses faith to power one’s fitness regimen.

Heavenly Health Programs?

A 2015 article in Outside magazine covered the first Faith and Fitness Conference in New Orleans, showing those inside the Christian faith that their spiritual side could help them keep their bodies healthy. Psychologists call it “internal motivation,” but church leaders might call “faith in God.” Some of the speakers emphasized these themes in their discussions, like workout video guru Michelle Spadafora, “Let God change the way you think, then you’ll know what to do,” she said, explaining mindful surrender to the Lord comes before the mastery of your body.

The New York Times also highlighted Harvard researchers’ look into the trendy CrossFit, when studying places that serve as spiritual support systems outside of church congregations. “CrossFit is family, laughter, love and community,” Ali Huberlie said. “I can’t imagine my life without the people I’ve met through it.”

According to Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, and co-author of the new Brain Briefs, the parallels between spiritual belief and health practices create a natural pairing. “You often hear about faith in a religious context, but first realize that the need to have faith is a human tendency,” he says.

Think of scientists and researchers, for instance, who create theories and have to believe their ideas are rooted in a truth that will only become clearer with dedication. “The only difference with scientists is they believe the data will determine what is right instead of a creed or a deity,” Markman says. “Faith in something is fundamental, and requires devotion.”

Faith & Your Fitness Routine

The same foundational principles of religious faith can also apply to health and wellness. Studies have shown communal and connective exercise experiences can help enhance your results, like a 2016 study that showed finding new, emotionally-supportive fitness buddies could inspire people to work out more often. “The goal is contagion,” says Markman. “You see someone pursuing a goal, and you’re more likely to pursue it yourself.”

Adhering to a structured regimen—like Crossfit, yoga practice, veganism—is also similar to following a faith. It’s a lifestyle. “Restrictions are often in place for wellness,” says Markman. “Modern American society wants to free us from rules with a ‘do what you want’ attitude, but talk to active participants in any faith or health practice and they’re unlikely to mention the restrictions. They are far more likely to talk about how much better their life is, the benefits, and how good they feel.”

The one element of fitness and faith you might already be aware of? Mindfulness. It’s hot for a reason. Feeling at peace, connected, fulfilled and healthy is always going to lead to positive outcomes, so find a fitness practice where you feel inspired to keep it going. Maybe it’s a running group through your church, or a yoga class with friends.

Or perhaps, at the smallest level, everyday, you can start getting religious about that mind-body connection. “The mind or brain exists to control the body, but that relationship is bidirectional,” Markman says. “It’s why one of the first elements of mindfulness is paying attention to your breathing—and one of the best ways to do that is go for a walk or run. You really start to focus inward, on your breathing, the coordination of your muscles, and how you feel.”

Religious transformation starts from within, just as fitness transformation can. When you feel healthy on the inside, you’ll be healthier on the outside.

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