Back in the 90s, I read (and loved!) a book called Fitness is Religion by Ray Kybartas. At that time, I guess I classified myself as agnostic on the way to becoming atheist. The idea of fitness as religion made total sense to me. Physical fitness can be so demanding and all-consuming: how much cardio to do; how often to lift weights; what and how much food to eat, etc. It requires true dedication, even devotion – especially if one is pursuing some type of competition, whether it be marathons, power lifting or general fitness competitions. The book included all sorts of lists and charts with recommendations for specific workouts and diet plans.
There’s something within us that’s drawn to religious feeling/practice, to “worship” of some kind. If we’re not worshiping the One true God, the Lord of the universe, then we will be worshiping something else. Our culture typically worships money and power. Yet it’s also very easy to worship our bodies – idolizing physical fitness, beauty or youthfulness. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being fit, young or beautiful, but we would be wise to remember that all those things are impermanent. We should care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19) so we have the strength and vitality needed to do God’s work in this world. But health/fitness is only one part of living a balanced life.
Let us ask ourselves who or what we are worshiping in our daily lives.
St. Paul reminds us: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).