In the human body, every cell, every organ, every nerve has its part to play. When all do so the body is healthy, vigorous, radiant, ready for every call made upon it. No cell, however humble, lives apart from the body, whether in serving it or receiving from it. This is true of the body of mankind in which God “hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties.” – The Universal House of Justice, September 1964.

I’m a fitness coach, so I naturally hear from so many people how they want to get in better shape, lose weight, gain muscle, get more energy, sleep better, be happier overall, get out of muscular pain, and much more.

I’ve realized, though, as I’ve done this work for myself and others, that reaching your fitness goals takes more than just working out or dieting—it takes integrity of self. What do I mean by that? Well, true fitness—both of the body and of the soul—requires being honest with yourself, keeping your word to you. It requires real nobility:

…man’s supreme honor and real happiness lie in self-respect, in high resolves and noble purposes, in integrity and moral quality, in immaculacy of mind… A man should pause and reflect and be just: his Lord, out of measureless grace, has made him a human being and honored him with the words: “Verily, We created man in the goodliest of forms”—and caused His mercy which rises out of the dawn of oneness to shine down upon him, until he became the wellspring of the words of God and the place where the mysteries of heaven alighted, and on the morning of creation he was covered with the rays of the qualities of perfection and the graces of holiness. How can he stain this immaculate garment with the filth of selfish desires, or exchange this everlasting honor for infamy? – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 18.

Life means knowing yourself—knowing who you are, and understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that I don’t like to commit to anything unless I can be absolutely certain I will make it, whether for a simple appointment, an outing with a friend, a meeting, and yes, even a relationship. I typically will tell my friends “maybe” when invited to events, unless I know I’ll go for sure. Why? Because I don’t want to feel as if I lied to or disappointed anyone. I like and want to keep my word. If I say I’m going to do something I will typically do it. Of course, I’m far from perfect, and at times have pulled out of something I committed to, but I am always mindful of this and try not to do it. Instead, I try to know myself, and hold myself to a higher standard. The same goes for your health and fitness goals.

Everyone knows that if you want to get fit and healthy, then you start exercising and moving your body more. You include this into your daily or weekly routine and make it a habit for life not, just for one day or one event. If you want to lose weight you start to watch your portion sizes, eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed food. You don’t go on fad short term diets because ultimately you’ll gain back the weight you lost. You resolve to create these good habits for life and you follow through.

But that’s not enough by itself. Really delving into yourself and asking the tough questions as to why you want fitness and health and what you think you’ll get from them can create a great first step into possibly setting these lifelong habits. If you think you’ll get more attention from a man or woman and be loved more you’ll fail. Respecting yourself first and foremost creates healthy habits such as exercise and eating good quality foods. This is how you’ll reach your goals, and they will last. Any time you do it for someone else or for a reason that is superficial you’ll fail and end up miserable wondering what the point is anyway.

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When you have a higher sense of self-worth and integrity from within you will start to do the things that reflect that sense of nobility, including exercising, eating right, sleeping better, and being happier overall. It’s not about material things, not about money, not about changing how you look to please someone else. When your purpose for improving your health involves helping you be a better person, to elevate your life’s purpose, it can create a rippling effect of health overall, not just for you but among others, too.

If on the other hand you want to look better physically because you think you’ll be loved more or accepted by society’s unrealistic expectations it will not last. You’ll end up looking for a quick fix, and for each fad diet or exercise program you try you’ll end up more and more dissatisfied and depressed when your attempts fail. The benefits of exercise rarely translate into the perfect physical body you may idealize in your head but, rather into the following:

  • Decreasing stress – Having a crazy day with screaming kids or business meetings? The right kind of exercise program can decrease stress, thereby making you feel better and more able to cope.
  • Increasing endorphins – Your body naturally makes you feel happier when you’re fit, and studies have shown exercise works better than anti-depressants for attempting to manage your depression.
  • Increasing self-confidence and self-esteem – if you consistently feel bad about yourself and question everything you do, regular exercise can help you to be more confident with your daily decisions.
  • Increasing creativity – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the gym, had a great sweat-breaking session, and come out of it with new creative ideas. Research shows that physical exercise can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards. Imagine what you could come up with for your own business or family life!
  • Creating a healthy rippling effect in the world – if you think that what you do doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. We are all connected to each other. Your fitness and health will help to inspire your friends, family and co-workers—and give you more energy for those relationships as well.

So your inner integrity—the qualities of “high resolves and noble purposes” that the Baha’i teachings praise and extol—sets the true measure of fitness and health.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

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