Health and Fitness in Place of Religion

Growing numbers of people find spiritual support in groups formed around philosophies of personal health and fitness, rather than religion. That’s a finding from a study by two Harvard Divinity School students. Looking for places where religiously unaffiliated millennials find spiritual community, two of the places they focused upon are commercial health and fitness franchises that met their criteria: SoulCycle and CrossFit.

Describing the ethos of CrossFit, the authors explain:

The two most striking things about CrossFitters are their evangelical enthusiasm and the way they hold one another to account. Would-be affiliate owners must first become part of the community and submit a written application that testifies to the life-changing experience of CrossFit.

Regarding SoulCycle, they write:

SoulCycle is a spin class where fitness is associated with empowerment, joyful living, and both inner and outer strength. Branded with phrases like “find your soul,” SoulCycle is in the business of changing lives. Classes are described as “journeys” and are led by inspirational instructors by candlelight, with a focus on transforming the mind as well as the body. Every week, 50,000 riders are rejuvinated by inspiring words and liturgy-like music playlists that give meaning to their workout.

So it’s little wonder that scientists grappling with issues related to health, fitness, and nutrition bump into popular beliefs that are impervious to contrary evidence. Faith is a belief in things that cannot be seen, things that are hoped for. Greg Glassman, co-founder of CrossFit, explains:

We’re stewards of something. We’re saving lives, lots of them. Three hundred fifty thousand Americans are going to die next year from sitting on the couch. That’s dangerous. The TV is dangerous. Squatting isn’t.

These folks are pursuing something that healthcare professionals can’t really provide. The New York Times describes Glassman as “messianic.” Spirituality is highly personal and important. It can contribute to health and well-being without a doubt.

But on the other hand, it’s not really a substitute for evidence-based healthcare.

“The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.” — Galileo

Click here to read more in the New York Times and here to read about the study from two Harvard Divinity School students, and here to read their study report.

Training, photograph © CrossFit Hunsville / flickr

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November 29, 2015