Heavenly bodies: how US churches have made fitness a spiritual issue

Some US churches are joining the fitness revolution.

Christian Today recently ran a story saying that a third of US pastors were obese.

It gets worse: it turns out that if you attend church in the US you are more likely to be too heavy.

A 2011 Northwestern University study tracking 3,433 men and women for 18 years found that young adults who attend church or a Bible study once a week are 50 per cent more likely to be obese than those who don't.

And another study found that people who attended church were more likely than non-church members to be 20 per cent overweight and have higher cholesterol and blood pressure.

But there is encouraging news. A US health website has found that far from churches just slumping back on the couch and changing channels, they're actually doing something about it.

Health Fitness Revolution (HFR) did exhaustive research into the fittest churches in Texas and came up with a list of the top 20. After all, according to founder Samir Becic – four times name as Number 1 Fitness Trainer in the World, says HFR – "Spiritual awareness is one of the key components of healthy lifestyle that impacts the whole body and rejuvenates the spirit. Physical fitness and healthy nutrition allows that spirit to flourish to new dimensions and many people experience a closer relationship to God."

Top of the list is Champion Baptist Forest Church in Houston. With 12,000 members, its list of facilities is awe-inspiring. It has cardio-vascular equipment, a weight room, two full-size gyms, a jogging/walking track and racquetball courts. It offers adult sports including ultimate frisbee, children's sports including basketball, tae kwon do, volleyball and martial arts, aerobic classes, pilates classes, 'body blaster' classes and 'flex and flow', to name but a few.

Next is 'Chris United Methodist Church' in Plano, though that turns out to be a misprint. Christ United Methodist has a basketball league, a volleyball league, it does cheerleading, dance classes, health education and Tai Chi – and it too has a weight room and an indoor track.

Columbus Avenue Baptist in Waco has the above, plus a heated indoor swimming pool; Crossroads Fellowship in Odessa hosts marathons; First Baptist in Abilene has not only an indoor track but an actual bowling alley. Hyde Park Baptist and the Quarries Church in Austin has a rock wall and tennis courts; the pastor of Lifepointe Church in Crowley is "one of the fittest Christian leaders in the US".

It's all too much. Christian Today is going for a lie down.

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