Fitness: A Religion for Those Who Have Faith in Their Path

FOR PEOPLE LIKE  me, fitness transcends mere physical activity, becoming a steadfast religion grounded in the faith that my efforts are suitable and worthwhile. This belief in the transformative power of exercise guides my daily routines and shapes my life, offering physical and spiritual fulfilment.

The increasing societal focus on health and fitness training can be compared to a religion when viewed through the lens of Harold Y. Vanderpool's ten points that define the characteristics of a religion. I have identified how the current health and fitness culture meets these criteria.

The Sacred

In many cultures, health and fitness have taken on a sacred status. Pursuing optimal physical health is often treated with a reverence that borders the religious. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being," which creates an idealised image of health that people strive to achieve. This ideal can be seen as a divine principle, similar to how religious beliefs define the sacred.

A Comprehensive Worldview

Health and fitness provide a comprehensive worldview by promoting a holistic approach to well-being. This includes not only physical health but also mental and emotional health, as well as social connections. The fitness culture emphasises balance, discipline, and a lifestyle that permeates all aspects of life, much like a religious worldview that provides a framework for understanding and interacting with the world.

Moral Values

Maintaining good health is often framed as a moral duty. Society tends to valorise those with a fit body, equating health with virtues such as discipline, self-control, and responsibility. Conversely, poor health can be stigmatised as a result of personal failings. This moral dimension closely mirrors the ethical codes found in religions.

A Protective Screen

Just as religion provides a sense of protection and security, the pursuit of health offers reassurance against the uncertainties of life. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, individuals believe they can ward off disease, enhance longevity, and improve their quality of life. This sense of control and protection mirrors the comfort that religious beliefs offer.

Salvation/Liberation

In fitness culture, salvation is represented by achieving one's health and fitness goals. Liberation comes in the form of freedom from diseases, obesity, and the perceived weaknesses of the body. The transformation of the body through fitness is often seen as a journey of redemption and self-improvement.

Symbols

Health and fitness culture is rich in symbols. Common symbols include gym equipment, fitness apparel, supplements, and health foods. These symbols represent a dedication to fitness and health, similar to religious symbols that signify faith and devotion.

Rituals

Fitness routines and dietary regimens act as rituals within this culture. Regular gym visits, yoga practices, meal prepping, and even social media sharing of fitness progress are ritualistic behaviours that parallel religious practices. Like religious ceremonies, these rituals create a sense of order and purpose.

Certain Moods and Emotions

Pursuing fitness often evokes specific moods and emotions, such as determination, euphoria, and a sense of community. Group workouts, marathons, and fitness classes generate collective enthusiasm and shared emotional experiences akin to religious congregations.

Conviction: the Content of One's Religion is Completely Realistic and True

The belief in the benefits of health and fitness is often absolute. People are convinced of the truth and efficacy of their fitness regimens, dietary plans, and health philosophies. This conviction is similar to religious faith, where followers know their beliefs' truth and efficacy.

Community

Online and offline Health and fitness communities provide a sense of belonging and support. Gyms, fitness clubs, and online fitness forums function as congregational spaces where individuals share experiences, advice, and encouragement, fostering a strong sense of community akin to that found in religious groups.

Conclusion

Health and fitness culture mirrors the structure and function of religion in many ways. It encompasses sacred principles, provides a comprehensive worldview, imposes moral values, offers protection, promises salvation, uses symbols, practices rituals, evokes specific emotions, holds firm convictions, and fosters community. As such, for many people like Lincoln and me, fitness is more than just a lifestyle choice; it has evolved into a modern form of religion.

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