The Provider: 3.3 Forge Vigorous Health
Biblical manhood means leading, providing and protecting. Fully carrying out these roles requires robust physical health.
A masculine man is a strong physical specimen. He stands upright with strong posture; his muscles are well developed from use; his movements are coordinated and vigorous. He has a vitality of spirit and a commanding presence. His eyes are radiant; his skin is clear and healthy.
Contrast this strong and healthy man with a frail, unhealthy man. He is stooped over, probably overweight, with weak muscles. He lacks physical vigor and energy.
Sadly, modern society is producing far more of the second type of man than the first. Look around you. Notice how many men look unhealthy and weak. The shameful truth is that many not only lack strength or athleticism, they have no interest in developing it.
To be out of shape, skin and bones, chubby and fat, or weak and effeminate is not true masculinity. A soft, flabby, degenerate body detracts from one’s manhood. Yet without rigorous and intelligent effort, this is exactly what we will come to possess. The causes for these unmanly effects on our bodies are everywhere. Much of our work is physically easy; we sit for most of our days; we drive everywhere; opportunities to exercise seem inconvenient; we lack sunshine and fresh air. Our food supply is calorie-rich and nutrient-poor; sugar and junk food abound. Unsurprisingly, ill health is epidemic.
Do not underestimate the value of good health to fulfilling your role as a man. A strong, healthy physical body gives you the energy to embrace life’s challenges. It enables you to accomplish many of the tasks and work associated with manhood. It even has a profound effect on your mindset. Physical and mental fitness go together like a lock and key; a sluggish, weak body usually means a dull mind. Good health aids in mental wellness and clear thinking. Beyond that, it motivates you to tackle manly responsibilities. And beyond even that, it sets a right example for your family and those who look to you for leadership.
Good health is not just something nice to have—it is a basic law of success. God’s men should be vigorously healthy, have a vibrant countenance and look fit. Thankfully, for most of us, good health is attainable. It starts with a masculine will to build our bodies into what God designed them to be. It requires discipline. It requires establishing good daily habits in what we eat and how we spend our time.
A Christian man who is striving to implement biblical manhood in his life will have honest, strong character. And his body will actually reflect that, because he will stand in a healthy, sturdy, upright position—the way his Creator made his body to stand.
Psalm 37:37 says, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” This means to observe, give heed to, consider and inspect the man who is whole, lacking nothing in physical strength and beauty, upright, straight, correct or level in a physical or a moral sense. Look for men who are physically and spiritually strong—and watch them! The word upright literally means positioned to be straight up. That means being vertical, erect in carriage or posture. What does such a man have in store for him? Peace, which can mean completeness, soundness, safety or soundness in body, welfare, health or prosperity.
Just as being perfect and upright morally will lead to being successful, happy and at peace when you are older, being upright physically will lead to being healthy and upright in later years. If you are strong and upright physically, you will be healthier and sounder in body and enjoy better welfare in your old age.
However, look around. Everywhere in society you will notice poor posture: head forward and dropped, arched neck, stooped shoulders, cocked hips, uneven footing. In many ways, society’s generally poor physical comportment reflects its drooping mental, moral and spiritual posture.
How you stand makes a big difference in how you project yourself as a man. A slouched, bent posture reflects weakness and trepidation. When you see a man hunched over his phone, what impression is he creating? A man’s body language communicates a lot—and most men are communicating with their bodies that they are weak, tired, timid, sheltered, awkward and/or ashamed. Good posture projects more vigor, authority, confidence and power.
Bad posture causes your ribcage to push down on your organs, which actually can begin to protrude out and push against your abdominal wall. Unmanly! Want to take inches off your waistline—literally instantly? Stand up straight. Standing like a man reduces beer belly; improves your organ function; prevents humped shoulders; reduces pain in your neck, shoulders and back; and can make you about an inch taller.
Your body language affects how other people think about you—and how you think about you! Note what a 1946 War Department Field Manual says: “A soldier is often judged by his appearance. The man with good posture looks like a soldier. He commands attention. … Good posture is associated with good morale. A man with a good posture feels better and is more positive. A man with poor posture cannot feel as positive; consequently he may develop a negative and discouraged attitude.”
Standing the way God created your body to stand has been shown to increase confidence, concentration and mental performance. One study found that “an upright posture makes people feel dominant and successful, which in turn improves their ability to relax and focus on problems.”
Becoming upright takes practice, especially if you’re used to standing poorly. Practice putting your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and heels into alignment, stacked on top of each other. You can quickly check your posture by standing as you normally would with your back to the wall. If the back of your head, your shoulders, your behind and your heels all touch the wall, then you have good posture. If they don’t, you need more practice.
Here is how to practice your stance:
- Plant your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Feel your weight in your heels (not your toes).
- Twist your heels into the ground (so the weight shifts to the outside of your feet) as you tighten your behind.
- Allow your arms to hang at your sides and open your palms forward.
- Spread your fingers and reach for the ground; feel the weight come off your shoulders.
- Imagine you have a tennis ball between your chin and your chest; don’t let the ball fall.
- Imagine someone pulling straight up on a hair at the top of your head.
Doesn’t this feel good? You are standing at the full height God made you! You are standing like a man! With practice, this will become how you naturally stand. But it will take practice and effort. You have to think about it.
Here is how to practice sitting properly:
- Plant both feet on the floor.
- Keep a good arch in your lower back.
- Lift your chest.
- Keep your shoulders back.
- Lift your chin.
- Keep your ears over your shoulders.
You have to check yourself: Once an hour, every day for the rest of your life is a good goal. You will fall into slouching, into hunching, into “chicken-head” posture. Recognize it and fix it, putting everything back into alignment. When it happens again, fix it again. Keep putting yourself back into a strong, stable position. Day by day, you will bring your posture further and further into erect alignment.
A consistent exercise program will invigorate your body. No matter how poor your current level of fitness, you can start a routine and become fitter and healthier. You are never too young or too old to benefit. Our body remains remarkably resilient even when we neglect it for a long time. Elderly people who begin to exercise can reverse many of the effects of aging.
Both aerobic training and weight training provide profound benefits right from the start, including: strengthening your skeletal muscle strength, power and endurance; improving bone density, reducing risk of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis (which is particularly important as we age; it has been said that weight lifting becomes more important the older we get); increasing flexibility and joint range of motion; improving balance; reducing loss of muscle mass; reducing risk of high blood pressure and diabetes; even reducing mental decline.
It’s not easy getting started, but keep in focus the benefits of taking care of your body—including those to your spiritual life, your family, your job. Pushing yourself to exercise and enduring temporary discomfort and healthy soreness are worth it. Force yourself to exercise at a set time, no matter how you feel. Don’t give in to tiredness. You will be surprised to discover the wellspring of energy that bubbles up while you are growing fitter and stronger through exercise.
Enjoy vigorous physical activities such as hiking, swimming, cycling, racket sports or running. Team sports are good to participate in if you can; aside from having physical benefits, they teach government, teamwork, selflessness and leadership. Don’t worry about being a star athlete. Every man, young and old, can profit from sports.
One thing that will help motivate you to stick with a certain exercise regimen is to choose physical activities you enjoy. You’ll be likelier to push yourself if you like the sports or exercises you do. If you find that all you can do is go for a walk outside, start with that. Then challenge yourself to walk faster and increase your distance. Then challenge yourself to run portions of your route. Then challenge yourself to run the entire route.
Set goals for your health and fitness: Shave a minute off your mile time; be able to do 10 pull-ups; drop 15 pounds; run in that local 10K race. These can be very motivating. Form a realistic picture in your mind of where you want to be in six months or a year, and take the steps to achieve that.
There are no shortcuts, but if you take on the challenge of building your body, if you go to God for help, and if you don’t give up, you will grow healthier, stronger and tougher—physically and mentally.
The Right Fuel
Good health requires good fuel. Just as surely as your car needs certain fluids and a particular kind of gasoline to work properly, your body’s operation depends on the fuel you put into it.
Modern food production is concerned primarily with pleasing our palates rather than fueling robust physical wellbeing. We are paying a tremendously high price in our health.
Herbert W. Armstrong taught seven laws of radiant health. The first of these is the law most frequently broken: proper food. He said 85 to 95 percent of all sickness and disease result directly from what we eat.
“Most degenerative diseases are modern diseases—penalties for eating foods that have been demineralized in food factories—usually an excess of starch, sugar (the carbohydrates) and fats [talking about bad fats—there are good fats!]. … [T]he medical profession has made great strides toward eliminating communicable diseases, yet is having little success coping with the increase of the noncommunicable diseases—such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases. These latter are affected by faulty diet” (The Seven Laws of Success; emphasis added).
So, what should we eat? There is a lot of information out there, but here is a terrific single-sentence summary you can trust. It comes from Principles of Healthful Living: “Two basic factors to remember in selecting foods are to avoid those foods which have been corrupted or perverted in man-made ‘food’ factories, and to maintain a balanced diet containing all the elements the body requires to sustain and build health.”
Put another way: 1) eat whole foods; 2) in right proportions.
Mr. Armstrong advocated this sound, basic rule: Eat only those natural foods that will spoil, and eat them before they do. Follow this rule and you will eat far less processed and refined food that is loaded with preservatives. You will eat far more fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and whole grains.
As much as possible, eat whole foods: foods God created you to eat, the way He created them. He made us, and He made food for us to eat. Our bodies get the most nourishment out of food that exists in the form God created it. Man cannot make anything He made any better. For that reason, avoid processed, refined foods as much as possible. Most of these are laden with chemicals, preservatives, taste enhancers and colorings that God did not create for us to consume. Industrialists have created these ingredients to sell more units and make more money. They are in business to sell—not to keep us healthy. They will use anything they can to make their food look better, taste better, last longer, and even unnaturally make you crave more!
Do not overeat. In the Western world, we generally eat far more than necessary. Overweight and obesity are terrible conditions with many ill effects on our health. God actually prophesied that our people, enjoying the abundant blessings He provided, would become overindulgent and fat (Deuteronomy 32:13-15). The Bible condemns gluttony, along with immoderate use of alcohol (e.g. Proverbs 23:2, 20-21). Drinking to dull the senses, or to the point of getting “buzzed” or drunk, is not appropriate. God commands a life of moderation (Philippians 4:5), eating for health, drinking responsibly, and not being slave to our appetites. Moderate use of alcohol can be healthful; more than one or two drinks at a time can harm your health and is pushing the bounds of moderation.
Occasional fasting, which the Bible commands for spiritual reasons (e.g. Matthew 6:16; 9:14-15; Psalm 69:10; 1 Corinthians 7:5), is also proven to have physical benefits. Among them, it can help you to develop a better sense of proper portions, in addition to improving your self-control.
In our society, eating healthy is hard. Obtaining healthy food is an ongoing struggle that requires attention and diligence. But if you invest that attention and diligence, you can make drastic improvements in your health.
Ask God for help. Get the best food you can afford. Although it is tempting, try not to save money by buying low-quality foods; look for other ways to cut costs. We are limited by the time and money we have to devote to our food budget. But see where you can make it a priority, and then rely on God to do the rest. Your health and your family’s health are worth it.
Cleanliness and Dress
Caring for the body God gives you includes proper hygiene and dress. Many scriptures show the importance God places on these elements of health. To ancient Israel, He gave many regulations requiring them to bathe or wash their clothes to ensure they didn’t pick up communicable diseases. Regular bathing and eliminating body odor is important. Taking care of our skin, hair, nails and teeth all contribute to health.
Keep not only your body, but also your clothing and your living quarters and environment clean. This is part of good stewardship. Not only does this promote good health, but it also helps you maintain a positive, productive frame of mind, and it reflects clean character.
Consider as well what your clothing says about you. If you dress slovenly, you project a bad, unmanly image. This affects your own mindset and the way that others perceive and treat you. Dress sharply, appropriate for the occasion, in the highest quality you can afford, and it will properly frame and enhance your masculinity.
Sleep and Rest
Lack of sleep and rest is common. Few of us get the seven to nine hours of sleep needed by the average adult. Sleep deprivation has been found to hinder focus, create brain fogginess, reduce memory retention, hurt productivity, undermine capacity to fight infections and handle stress, raise levels of inflammation, increase likelihood of weight gain, boost susceptibility to heart disease and cancer, and increase sadness and depression.
God made us to need sleep. While you sleep, your brain is busy performing a range of biological maintenance jobs that keep your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead. The quality of your sleep largely determines the quality of your waking life.
Probably the most important thing you can do in this area is to go to bed on time each night. It is easy to keep pushing back your bedtime so you can finish that project, surf the Internet, unwind with a book, watch a television show, chat with friends or do any number of activities. Yet they all have the same inescapable consequence: They cut down on your sleep.
When you stay up late, how do you usually spend that time? By contrast, when you wake early in the morning, how do you usually spend that time? The early riser is much likelier than the night owl to start his day with praying, studying the Bible, working out, showering, and eating a healthy meal. The early riser is generally on his way to a more successful life (Proverbs 20:13).
If you have a hard time falling asleep, here are some quick tips:
- Practice relaxation techniques before bed to increase your quality of sleep.
- Avoid doing work immediately before (or in) bed.
- Avoid watching television or using a computer before bed.
- Cut off late-night Internet access.
- Adjust your evening exposure to artificial light. Dim overhead lights or use lamps. Install an app that dims the most stimulating light wavelengths on your computer screen as evening approaches.
- Adjust your wake-up time. If you force yourself to wake earlier, you will be likelier to go to bed earlier.
- Take a nap. If you don’t get a full night’s sleep, a nap can help make up the difference. Research shows that napping 10 to 45 minutes can increase performance.
- Avoid caffeine, especially mid- to late afternoon and at night.
- Exercise. This can really help not only your fitness but also the amount and quality of your sleep.
- Pray for good sleep (e.g. Psalm 127:2).
A good night’s sleep is essential. No matter your age, it’s not too late to establish a routine and get proper sleep. Don’t let sleep deprivation and lack of mental focus slow you down and reduce your effectiveness as a man. Get enough sleep so you can stay focused, be more productive, think sharper and live with vitality.
Your body is the tool with which you carry out your responsibilities as a man. Neglecting or abusing it impairs your effectiveness in untold ways. God gave it to you to serve you for many years if you take care of it. Show Him your appreciation by keeping it tuned up and ready for action!