Fit for What?

I believe that one of the common problems of our modern era is that our relationships with our bodies have become abstracted.  This abstracted relationship manifests itself in a lot of ways, but I’d like to focus in on our modern concept of physical fitness.  I’m implicating fitness as an abstracted relationship because we talk about fitness without much discussion of what exactly our bodies should be fit for.

As far as I can see, the implied answers to these questions are  rather unsatisfying.  Fit to inspire envy.  Fit to turn heads.  Fit to be admired, liked, loved.  Perhaps secondarily we hear in the chatter around fitness some answers along the lines of fit to keep living, fit to live longer, or fit to feel good.  Whatever degree of merit these answers deserve, I submit that they all likely fall short of better answers that we might come up with.

I think that the question of fitness has to point to whether or not we are using our bodies in useful ways.  I am certain that we are all using our bodies in some useful ways, but probably not always in ways that would inspire the label of “physically fit.”  For most of us, the most strenuous activities of our week involve moving around for the sake of moving around, or, perhaps with a bit more purpose, moving around for recreation.  It is much less common to move around to get somewhere or to do work that helps us and others to live well.  And so we have behemoth gyms that are pumped with cooled air and filled with machines so that people can move around without going anywhere.  I can’t help but think that such a scene would be a real puzzler for those pioneer children who sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked (and walked).

My point is not that gyms are bad or that exercise needs to be productive.  My point is that it is odd that we use the term “fitness” to describe a goal without really identifying what a physically fit body is fit to do.  I don’t have a good answer for the fitness question.  I’m not even sure that fitness for any purpose should be the highest virtue toward which we should strive in our relationships with our bodies.  But I do think that grappling with this question and not taking fitness for granted might help us to be less abstracted in the ways we approach our bodies.

Now, I haven’t looked at the scriptures with this specific question in mind.  Maybe some of you have some light to shed in this regard.  However, the one scripture-like line that has kept coming to my mind is from the hymn “More Holiness Give Me,” in which the supplicant pleads to become “more fit for the kingdom.”  I’m fairly confident that fitness for the kingdom goes well beyond any kind of physical fitness, but perhaps it does not exclude a sort of stewardship that we have for our bodies.  It leaves me wondering how I might be physically fit for the kingdom.  How might the way I use my body make me fit to love and serve others?  How might it make me fit to enter the celestial kingdom?  Like I said before, I don’t have many answers here, but I like the questions.

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2 Responses

  1. Brady,

    This is an excellent post. It’s too bad no one has commented on it yet. Of course, sometimes that’s the way it is well written posts on topics that are actually important.

    In fact, I’m having trouble knowing exactly what to say, in part because I think that your questions are deep ones that require a lot of thought. One tricky thing here is that the scriptures, I think, are virtually silent about physical fitness. Of course, there is the Word of Wisdom, but it says nothing about exercise. It does, though, give a promise that those who keep the Word of Wisdom “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20). Still, it seems that the greater blessings are wisdom and knowledge (not to say they are unrelated to physical fitness). Perhaps another relevant verse is D&C 88:124: “arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.”

    I think the scriptures say very little about “fitness” because our modern notion of fitness is so, well, modern. It is only in more recent times that “work” is not necessarily synonymous with “labor.” Today someone can be a workhorse and still be tremendously out of shape. Not so, for the most part, in former times.

    Maybe the problem is seeing fitness as a product rather than a process. In this regard, I think it’s interesting that running and walking are themselves blessings, not the means to obtain things like a good figure. It is interesting, also, that the D&C 88 verse talks about invigoration — in the very process of labor or exercise, one’s mind and body is invigorated. I would take this a step further and say that there is something about exercising or working outside that is particularly invigorating.

    One thing that the scriptures talk quite a bit about, though, is manual labor (laboring with your hands). I believe that, at least ideally, every Latter-day Saint should be laboring with their hands. The trouble is that the worker in our society is alienated — alienated from community, from nature, from intellectual invigoration, and so forth. We need to restore the dignity of the laborer, and the best way to start is to labor ourselves. Many of us can start by walking those two blocks to church.

  2. Brady, this is a thought provoking post with a wonderful comment from Dennis. We truly are alienated in a way that we were not a few hundred years ago. My husband at the first of the year began working out every single morning with a strong purpose. We understand that the last days are upon us and that things are about to get more complex. He is working out to be physically prepared for whatever comes his way. What if we have to evacuate? What if our bodies aren’t prepared to climb the mountains for refuge? What makes us think that they’ll just automatically adjust because of the circumstances. This has helped me perceive my food and diet differently as well. Rather than eating to stay trim, it’s eating to be healthy and strong. It’s been quite a fascinating paradigm shift.

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