When I was in high school, I was TERRIBLE at taking care of my physical health. And I definitely didn’t keep in mind Catholic views of physical health.
I worked too hard and never relaxed. I ate terribly-so much junk food. I rarely exercised. My sleep schedule was horrendous. And I was in a friend group that was only bringing me down.
And because of this, I had very little energy or joy.
When I realized that things couldn’t keep going like that, I made some changes. And while physical health can still be a struggle for me, I’m much better now. I eat better, I make more time for relaxation and exercise, I try to get enough sleep, and I have much better friends now.
And now, I have much more energy, and I feel genuine joy. And my efforts to improve my physical health have had positive effects in other areas as well.
In this article, I’ll share more about the definition of physical health, the impact of physical health on all areas of life, and some suggestions for habits to improve physical health.
Resources for Catholic Views of Physical Health
Before we begin, below are some resources for learning more about Catholic views of physical health and how to apply these understandings to physical health habits:
- In Full Bloom by Claire Swinarski.
- Into His Likeness by Dr. Edward Sri.
- Go Bravely by Emily Wilson.
- Theology of the Body in One Hour by Jason Evert.
The Importance of the Body for Catholic Views of Physical Health
Before we define physical health, it is essential to understand the importance of the body.
In Theology of the Body in One Hour, Jason Evert helps us to understand the meaning of the body.
In our current state, due to original sin, our bodies and souls are not in harmony. In the past, some theologians and philosophers have taken this current state as meaning that the body has no meaning.
However, this is not true. Our bodies are so important. They reveal who we are. WE ARE OUR BODIES. They show how we are like God because they indicate that God created us to give of ourselves completely. Why would there be a resurrection of the body if the body had no meaning?
Because our bodies are so important, we must care for them. We must value them as gifts from God and His dwelling place because they make us like Him. Because our bodies reveal that God created us to give of ourselves, they show that God created us to be in community with others.
The Components of Catholic Views of Physical Health
Caring for Our Bodies
This component falls in line with typical definitions of physical health. We need to take care of our bodies so they function as well as possible through eating well, exercising, sleeping, etc.
However, we need to be careful here about the intention with which we care for our bodies. Emily Wilson describes this well in Go Bravely. She writes about needing to shift her attitude from “I’m exercising and eating well to fit into the mold of what a perfect body looks like” to “I’m doing these activities to care for my body and love the body that God has given me.” (This shows why mental health and physical health are intertwined!)
Fellowship With Others
This part does not fit as well with secular definitions of physical health, but we include it here because, as Catholics, we believe that our bodies reveal that God created us to be in community. We can only relate with others because of our bodies. Through them, we can do things like talk, use nonverbals, and show affection.
Dr. Edward Sri talks about the importance of fellowship in his book Into His Likeness. He writes that we cannot grow in our relationship with God without the support and encouragement of others. We can’t live out Christianity alone.
To understand this better, let’s look at what the word disciple involves. In Biblical times, disciples were immersed in haverim (community in Hebrew). This word means they lived together, helped each other get to a common goal, supported each other, pushed each other, and challenged each other. That is the goal of our fellowship with others-to push each other to greater holiness. Our physical health habits, therefore, need to involve spending time in intentional fellowship with our fellow disciples.
The Effect of Physical Health on Mind and Soul
There are three types of health in the Radiant as the Son progression:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Spiritual health
All of these types of health affect each other, for better or for worse. This effect is the case because all aspects of ourselves form one whole being (CCC 365), so one part influences the entire being.
When we care for our bodies because they are good and spend time in fellowship, we use our behavior to dispute lies that we may believe. For example, being with others who truly love you can counter lies such as “I am not lovable.” Caring for your body can also release helpful chemicals to disrupt feelings of depression.
Also, this time in fellowship can give us the accountability needed to pursue healing and pursue the truth. Our community can call us out when we choose to live by lies instead of the truth.
When we care for our bodies because they are good, we become more in touch with God’s presence within us, which is very helpful for prayer. The accountability provided in fellowship can also help us stay faithful to our prayer even in moments of difficulty.
How Physical Health Affects Virtue
In the Radiant as the Son progression, our health either allows us to grow in virtue or hinders our growth in virtue. Taking care of our physical health is helpful for growth in virtue for a few reasons:
- Taking care of our bodies requires discipline and a willingness to do things that are sometimes difficult. This discipline is beneficial when growing in virtue because that requires discipline as well.
- The accountability provided by fellowship is also beneficial for pursuing virtue. For example, I once heard a story about a group of men who would begin fasting when one group member fell into the sin of consuming pornography. This accountability helped them all to overcome this sin.
Habits for Applying Catholic Views of Physical Health
Caring For Our Bodies
Before making any drastic changes in this area, please consult with your doctor to ensure that what you are doing is suitable for your situation and your health.
Caring for our bodies can be done in several ways, such as:
- Improving our diet
- Making sure to get quality sleep and enough sleep
- Regular exercise
- Physical self-care, such as brushing our teeth, washing our face, etc.
Fellowship can be challenging to pursue, especially if you currently don’t have a group of fellow disciples in your life. Claire Swinarski offers a couple of suggestions in her book In Full Bloom to help with these difficulties:
- Be willing to go first. It may be awkward, and yes, you may get rejected, but be willing to go up to people, introduce yourself, and get to know them. It gets easier with time, and you never know who God might put in your life in this way.
- Food is always a good starting point. You can take care of both aspects of physical health at once by inviting people over for a meal or going out to eat. Then, if things are awkward, at least you still have food!
- Finally, be willing to branch out. See if events are going on at your parish or in your diocese catered towards people in your state-in-life, and then go. You never know who you might meet!
I know these suggestions can be challenging, but it is better to try than to sit there with no one. Know that I am in this struggle with you, sister!
I hope that this article has encouraged you to pursue habits to improve your physical health. If you would like some guidance regarding creating habits, subscribe to the email list below. You’ll receive a free workbook that you can use to choose and plan a healthy habit.
If you would like to read more about Catholic views of physical health, I recommend the following books:
- In Full Bloom by Claire Swinarski. She has lots of great suggestions for ways to pursue fellowship
- Into His Likeness by Dr. Edward Sri. This book also contains many suggestions about pursuing Christian fellowship
- Go Bravely by Emily Wilson. She includes many ways to become more alive, including tips about improving your mindset when it comes to caring for your body.
- Theology of the Body in One Hour by Jason Evert. Theology of the Body offers many insights about the meaning of the body, and this book is a great way to dive in without too much heady theology.
Finally, check out these articles to learn more about the Radiant as the Son progression.