I’ve come a long way in building a regular fitness routine that is keeping my body healthy and strong. Seeing the benefits of being in shape made me consider caring for my soul with the same discipline. After all, praying holds proven benefits for both physical health and mental health — not to mention the peace and clarity that come with regularly welcoming God’s presence into our lives.
I discovered that prioritizing both fitness and prayer created a “virtuous loop” — putting effort and intentionality into my prayer life made me stronger in my fitness routine, and the discipline it takes to pursue physical fitness enriched my prayer life. Which, if you think about it, makes sense because our bodies and souls are united.
So if you are familiar with a workout routine and are interested in building a regular spiritual practice, here are four things fitness has taught me about prayer.
1. ‘No days off’ is a helpful mentality.
I remember seeing this mantra on T-shirts and in Instagram captions, and frankly, it bugged me. “Where’s the balance?!” I’d wonder.
When I started developing my own fitness routine, however, I noticed that as soon as I started slacking off, it became so much harder to get back into my routine. Reluctantly, I thought I’d adopt the “no days off” idea myself. I quickly realized that it didn’t have to mean relentlessly annihilating my muscles. Instead, it looked like going for a walk or doing a little yoga routine on my rest days. This way, I never was entirely stagnant, and it kept my goals in sight.
The same idea is true for prayer. Just like any other relationship, connecting with God takes consistent effort and practice. Over time, we “tune in” to the ways God speaks to us — and it’s much easier to stay on track if we’re consistently turning to Him, instead of only when we need something.
God is present with us in every moment of our lives, so why not tap into that loving presence every day? For me, this looked like reading the daily Gospel — I found there was always time for that. This sets my intention for the day: glorify God in mind and body.
2. Without a program, progress is extremely difficult.
When I first started working out, I was so intimidated. I didn’t know how to use half the machines in the gym, and I felt like an idiot trying to run half a mile breathlessly. This was really disheartening, and more often than not, I’d show up at the gym, putz around, and do an unproductive workout.
It wasn’t until I had a legitimate program that I began to see results. Finding a program forced me to acknowledge my baseline starting point (which was humbling!) — and then, it became a powerful tool. With a plan in hand, I could walk into the gym with confidence, and was far more productive.
Similarly, when I didn’t have a “program” to help me approach praying, it was easy to go days without sitting down with God. But as I experienced firsthand how helpful my fitness program was, I applied the same principle to my spiritual life.
This looked like having a formula for my morning prayers: short period of silence, reading the daily Gospel, jotting some notes down in a journal entry, and if time allowed, a bit of reading from a spiritual book. Having these tangible items made it an easy victory every morning because I didn’t have to waste time figuring out what to do. When I started using this “program” I saw huge results in not only my consistency, but also depth of prayer.
3. Surround yourself with people who share your goals.
If those around you don’t value fitness, it will be extremely hard to find motivation. We naturally crave comfort — and it isn’t comfortable to swap the couch for a challenging circuit. But if there’s someone in your corner who wants you to get stronger — and also wants to get stronger themselves — you’re so much more likely to get in a workout even when it sounds awful.
It was my husband who got me into fitness. But he didn’t just tell me to work out more, he got in there with me. He was striving for his own personal best, and knew how good it felt, so he wanted it for me, too. This motivation was irreplaceable.
The same goes for prayer. Having a spouse, roommate, or friend to share this journey with is huge. The movements of the Spirit are very gentle and can be challenging to discern. Being able to talk with someone about decisions that you face or promptings you are feeling can bring clarity. Having a faith community — even if it’s just one person — will push you farther than you are likely to push yourself. When you are weak, they can be strong.
4. Setting goals is essential for continual progress
Once I had my fitness program and stuck to it, my body started to change. For the first time in my life, I had muscle definition, and I was SO excited!
Then after a little while, I realized I wasn’t getting much stronger. I learned that once you’ve done the same program for a while, your body adapts and starts doing the exercise more efficiently. This is an incredible mechanism in our bodies, but it means that in order to progressively get stronger, you have to change the program, add new goals, and push harder!
In my prayer life, I find it easy to grow stagnant and complacent in my relationship with God. Once I had built up a good foundation of daily prayer, it became more natural to push myself to become more vulnerable and find other ways to give myself over to the love God has for me and others. That might look like more regular Mass participation or other prayer methods or finding ways to put faith and love into action with service.
It has been empowering and enlightening to see what a difference my own discipline makes in my physical and spiritual development. Having a deeper understanding of fitness has also taught me more about failure and resilience. When I make a mistake or step backwards, it’s up to me to renew my commitment and try again — God and my body always respond.
Experiencing how deeply united our bodies and souls are has taught me a great deal about God’s brilliant design and constant presence in creation. The gratitude I feel for the opportunity to join God in my own physical and spiritual growth is a prayer in and of itself.