According to a recent study, younger individuals who regularly participate in religious activity may be at risk for becoming overweight. The findings, presented in March at the American Heart Association conference in Atlanta, included data collected from 32,433 individuals aged 20–32. The individuals were followed for 18 years. Upon analyzing the data, researchers discovered that those who attended at least one “religious” event per week appeared to be more overweight or obese in their later years than those who did not. The authors carefully explained that the research implied an association, not a causal link, between religious activity participation and weight gain.

IDEA author and presenter Julz Arney questions the research but concedes that such groups can benefit from health and fitness education. “In my experience working on a staff at a large nondenominational Christian church and in serving as a volunteer, I’ve found that people who are highly involved in church are generally ‘givers,’” Arney says. “‘Givers don’t tend to care for themselves very well, although they do an excellent job of taking care of everyone else!” She adds that caring for others often leaves little time for healthy eating and regular exercise. “

When I saw this happening in my church, I offered to give an educational talk for the staff on the importance of being physically active,” Arney recalls. “Because I understood the spiritual beliefs of my audience, I was able to tie those principles in with the importance of self-care and highlight how this will give you more bandwidth to care for others.” Arney also facilitated a walking group twice a week as well as an 8-week boot camp that included nearly 50 people. She currently hosts an open community class called Glory!YOGA that incorporates yoga and spirituality. She accepts donations, which are given to the church’s community resource center. “

The bottom line is that fitness professionals who are plugged into a church have a twofold opportunity. They can use their gifts to really help a population that needs it, and they can extend their reach in their community.”

Do you offer health and fitness programs at your place of worship? E-mail your story to [email protected]