In an article entitled “Your Brain on Bicycling” (Bicyling, March 2014), Selene Yeager argues that exercise stimulates the brain so that 30-60 minutes of activity at a medium-to-high intensity measurably boosts concentration, memory, reasoning, and planning. For her, the ideal daily pattern is to ride, work, ride, and work.
She writes, “Exercise is like fertilizer for your brain. All those hours spent turning your cranks create rich capillary beds not only in your quads and glutes, but also in your gray matter…When you pedal, you also force, more nerve cells to fire. As those nerves light up, they intensify the creation of proteins like brain deprived neurotropic factor (BDNF), and a compound called noggin (yes, really), which promotes the formation of brain cells. The result: you double or triple the production of neurons…You also release neurotransmitters (the messengers in your brain cells) so all those cells, new and old, can communicate with each other for faster functioning” (40-41).
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that more exercise is better. Studies have shown that 30-60 minutes of continuous activity is optimal, and that more than this actually reduces short-term brain function because the body and brain need to recover from the activity. To be sure, longer periods of exercise provide their own benefits, however, if you’re looking for more energy in the middle of the day, go for the 30 minute option rather than the 120 minute option.
As I processed Yeager’s article in light of the Bible, I had a few insights I thought might be worth sharing with you. First, God made each person to be a body-mind-soul unity. There are valid distinctions to be made between these three, but there is no division. Like God who is three persons and one God, we are body-mind-soul and one person.
Second, this means that while we should heed Paul’s words to Timothy, we should not take them to mean that there’s no place for regular exercise in the Christian life. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Paul is not hereby dismissing the benefit, or necessity, of physical exercise, rather, he is challenging the ultimacy of it. That is, when exercise or fitness or appearance is our main goal, we have slipped from stewardship into idolatry, and of this we must repent. God has designed us so that when he is our ultimate treasure, we are free to pursue other necessities and pleasures within the bounds of his wisdom.
So keeping Paul’s helpful counsel in mind, as well as the latest scientific discoveries, we should utilize physical exercise to stimulate our mental powers. Then we should use these powers, in some way or other, for the glory of Christ and the good of others. In this way, exercise becomes a means to the end of the glorifying God rather than a means to the end of idolatry. It becomes a means of joy rather than distraction or frustration.
So for me, I think the best daily plan is to exercise in the morning and then in the early afternoon. I like Yeager’s pattern of ride, work, ride, work. Of course, this isn’t always practical, but when it is, this would be most helpful for me.
How about you? Do you see exercise as important? Why or why not?
How does it fit in with your life in Christ?
How will you use exercise to the maximum effect for the glory of Christ?
What are the roadblocks to regular exercise in your life? How can you overcome them?