5 Ways Taking Care of Your Body Also Takes Care of Your Mind

I recently read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and walked away from the read more convinced in the importance of exercise. While we often think of exercise as critical to a healthy body, it is also essential for a strong mind. In his book, Dr. John Ratey offers a compelling case for exercise significantly and positively impacting our mental health, growth, and capacity. While he does not discount exercise for the sake of caring for your body, he argues, “Exercise is the single most powerful tool to optimize your brain function.”

The case study that nudged Ratey to write the book comes from Naperville, Illinois. Naperville District 203 is known as the fittest school district in the nation, and one of the smartest. Years ago, as maverick physical education teachers piloted scheduled running and exercise sessions before school started, the students in those sessions saw their grades dramatically improve. As the strategy spread, “guidance counselors began suggesting that students schedule their hardest subjects immediately after gym to capitalize on the beneficial effects of exercise.” Exercise, according to Ratey, directly lifted the student’s test scores and academic performance.

When it comes to stewarding our minds well, here are five ways exercise helps (all taken from Ratey’s research and book):

  1. Exercise increases learning ability: As we exercise, our minds are put in a better position to receive and apply new information.
  1. Exercise lowers the impact of stress: Exercise puts stress on your mind and body and trains your mind to handle stress better by teaching you that you can manage and master it.
  1. Exercise lowers sensitivity to anxiety: Anxiety is going to bombard leaders, but exercise builds a resistance to it. Ratey writes, “When we increase our heart rate and breathing in the context of exercise, we learn that these physical signs don’t necessarily lead to an anxiety attack. We become more comfortable with the feeling.”
  1. Exercise helps fight depression: While I am not naively suggesting merely to “read your Bible and run a mile and you will be fine,” exercise can help fight depression. According to Ratey, “Exercise influences the same chemicals that antidepressants do.” In other words, exercise is a form of medicine.
  1. Exercise increases memory capacity: A fascinating study, highlighted in Spark, was conducted by neurologist Scott Small, who put volunteers on a three-month exercise regimen and then took pictures of their brains. He discovered that the capillary volume in the memory area of the brain increased by 30 percent! 

Leaders sometimes think of exercise as a tool to help them steward their bodies, but the reality is that exercise is also a tool to steward our minds better. We are integrated people, and taking care of our bodies cannot be separated from taking care of our minds. Plato said it this way:

In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activities. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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