It’s a moral imperative: We must take care of both our souls and our bodies Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

As Catholics, we hear a lot about making sure we have a healthy spiritual life by attending Mass, praying regularly, and doing good works. Taking care of our souls should be a priority in our lives.

However, that does not mean that we should ignore our bodies. It is very important to take care of our bodies, too.

In religion class in Catholic grade school, I remember learning that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” The complete quote from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Integrated vision in ‘Theology of the Body’

In his famous talks on the “Theology of the Body,” Blessed Pope John Paul II presented an integrated vision of the human person: body, soul, and spirit. Although his insights have been applied primarily to sexuality, I’m sure John Paul II realized the importance of taking care of our bodies in all aspects.

When he became pope at the age of 58, Pope John Paul II was very physically fit. He liked to jog, swim, and ski. I recall that he had one of the swimming pools — which had been filled in with concrete — reopened for his use.

Caring for our bodies in winter

This winter I have thought about the importance of caring for our bodies. The below-zero wind chills, snow, and ice have reduced opportunities for children and adults to get outdoors for exercise.

I can remember spending time outdoors when I was a child even in the cold weather; we often built snow forts  and went ice skating. We didn’t have as many indoor distractions as kids do today — and maybe we were a little tougher!

Importance of exercise

When we can’t get outside to exercise, there are still many other ways to keep in shape during the winter months. I enjoy playing tennis and am able to play indoors at a tennis center in Madison. I also go regularly to a health club. An inexpensive option is to walk in shopping malls or exercise at home.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reminds us that physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. It also increases the risk of stroke and other major cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and diabetes.

The AHA recommends that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. For adults, the AHA advises 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise: 30 minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember,

Physical activity can be increased by reducing sedentary time (such as watching television, playing computer video games, or talking on the phone). Parents should try to be role models for active lifestyles and provide children with opportunities for increased physical activity, says the AHA.

Only about 21 percent of adult Americans surveyed met the recommended amounts of exercise, reports a 2013 paper from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you want to control your weight, lengthen your life, and age gracefully, get moving, advises the CDC.

A moral imperative

Besides being a nice thing to do, taking care of our health is a “moral imperative,” said Dr. Tarcisio Beal, a retired University of the Incarnate Word professor in San Antonio, Texas.

“Unless we take it seriously, individually and collectively, we will be setting ourselves for a major crisis down the road and we will not be heeding Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Loving ourselves means loving also our bodies by keeping them as healthy as possible,” said Dr. Beal in an article on the Catholic university’s website.

As we get ready to observe the season of Lent starting on March 5, we might want to consider how we are taking care of both our souls and our bodies. Of course, Lent is a time of fast and abstinence. Besides fasting from food and abstaining from meat, we might consider abstaining from sedentary activities and getting more physically active.

We can even combine care for both body and soul by doing such things as praying the Rosary while we walk (something I like to do myself) or listening to spiritual reading while walking on a treadmill.

Let’s remember to honor God with our bodies, starting this Lent and continuing throughout the year.