Taking Care of Our Bodies: Making Time for Our Souls

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Many years ago, my rosh yeshiva remarked of avid joggers: They are running in order to live longer. But they have no idea what they are living for.

In the secular world, we see many people who act as if swallowing sufficient Omega-3, eating a high fiber diet, and consuming lots of brightly colored vegetables will help them live forever.

Devoting all one’s energy to the Sisyphusean quest for immortality is draining.

That’s why the people one meets in health food stores tend to be a grim-looking lot, wrinkled and prunish in appearance. The guy slicing pastrami in the local deli is much more likely to sport a beaming countenance.

Our world, on the other hand, too often suffers from the opposite malady: an apparent unconcern with all matters pertaining to health. Health and exercise, if they are treated at all, are invariably consigned to the women’s pages of our magazines. Wives are expected to still fit into their wedding gowns, no matter how many children they have had, even as their husbands proudly sport another inch around the waist for each child.

I once asked a member of a large charedi community, “Why is everybody here so fat?” My friend, an incisive wit, neatly captured the mindset, “The goy says its not good to be fat. What does the goy know?”

Give us an anecdote about a heavy smoker who lived to 90 or an avid jogger who dropped dead in the midst of his daily run, and we are happy: no need to worry further about adopting a healthier lifestyle or diet. And we pat ourselves on the back for not allowing ourselves to become thrall to our physical side.

The truth is, however, that that the cost of ignoring our bodies, of not paying Azazel its due, is often paid in terms of our ruchnios. “The dead cannot praise Hashem” (Tehillim 115:17) Too many of us are walking time-bombs just waiting to explode.

Last Shabbos, a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile sat down next to me at a Kiddush. I barely recognized him. He had lost forty pounds since I last saw him. I asked him what happened to him. He described how his wife had announced one day, in a tone that brooked no opposition, that they were going to the doctor.

“What should I tell the doctor?” my friend asked. “For starters, tell him that you sound like you are going to die when you sleep,” his wife replied. The doctor ordered a battery of tests, which revealed that in his mid-40s he had already developed diabetes and his triglycerides were three times the danger level. “My wife saved my life,” he told me.

That same Shabbos another friend related how he had asked someone near him at a shalom zachor why he was breathing so hard. The man explained that he had just climbed several flights of stairs. Still not satisfied, my friend insisted that he speak to a doctor sitting nearby. The doctor told the man to meet him in the hospital on Sunday. While there, the man had a heart attack, which, Baruch Hashem, he survived.

Judging from number of four-color glossy pamphlets still being passed out in shul, there are too many young men in our community who are not so fortunate as to collapse in a hospital.

PREMATURE DEATH IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG. By ignoring our bodies when we are young too many of us our heading for an old age in which we are imprisoned by our own bodies.

Between 1900 and 2000, the average life expectancy in the United States increased by 30 years. Modern medicine has found many ways to cure disease and keep us alive, but the body still wears out. If we are fortunate enough to live long lives, we can count on losing ten percent of our muscle mass every decade past forty, on our hair graying, our eyes growing more far-sighted.

Much of that is inevitable. What is not inevitable is that old age should become a virtual prison, in which even the simplest daily tasks sap all one’s energy. Just getting up out of a chair requires a huge investment of time and energy for many elderly people. Think about what it means to have to plan out each move from one place to another in the room, and decide whether it’s worth the effort.

Fear is the constant companion of the elderly. Each year, 350,000 elderly people in the United States fall and break a hip. Of those one-fifth will never walk again, and two-fifths will have to move to a nursing home. The three best predictors of such a fall are poor balance, muscle weakness, and taking four or more prescription medications. (Those with all three have a 100% chance of falling within the next year.)

But medications can be simplified and even a moderate exercise and weight-lifting program can do much to improve balance and reverse muscle deterioration. We are not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger-style pumping iron, but repetitions with small weights.

Exercise “is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth,” says Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher at the University of Illinois. As far as exercise goes, it is never too late, and never early enough to get started. Many studies show significant benefits from moderate exercise even for those who have lived sedentary lives until their mid-70s.

Experts stress that no more than 30% (and some say as little as 6%) of longevity is determined by heredity. The rest depends largely on lifestyle. And research shows that most of the healthy behaviors that help fight disease also slow down the aging process. Keep moving, shed excess weight, and eat well are the golden rules.

Even where longevity is not increased, much can be done to improve the quality of life. In one controlled study of 568 men and women over seventy identified as at high risk of becoming disabled, the group assigned trained geriatricians, as opposed to their normal physician, were 33% less likely to become disabled and 50% less likely to develop depression over the next eighteen months.

Bottom line: Exercising and proper eating is not at the expense of one’s ruchnios. Rather it provides is with the tools to enjoy productive old age, with a lot more to think about than the most recent physical breakdown.

Appeared in Mishpacha magazine today.

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29 Responses

  1. Moshe Feldman says:

    Hashkafic Understanding of Eating Right and Exercising (continued)

    Moreover, when a person succumbs to his ta’avos and eats too much
    unhealthy food, he is in danger of falling into the trap of living in
    order to eat, rather than eating in order to live, which violates kol
    ma’asecha yi’hu l’shem Shamayim.

    In addition, we make brachos on foods to constantly remind ourselves
    of Hashem’s beneficence. When a health-conscious person spends time
    thinking whether a given food is healthy for him or not, he too can
    use the opportunity to think that he is eating to be healthy, and that
    healthy foods are a gift from Hashem.

    I think that it’s harder to find additional hashkafic aspects of
    exercising other than v’nishmartem me’od. After all, exercise takes
    time, and ideally one should not waste a second. True, one can always
    listen to a shiur while exercising, but usually this is not the
    optimal form of learning. Perhaps, one could use the following
    thought to enhance exercise: if one exercises in natural surroundings,
    one can simultaneously appreciate the nifla’os ha’Borei. I bicycle in
    Gush Etzion in breathtaking scenery. For those who are zocheh to live
    in Eretz Yisrael, one also can be mekayem walking/going 4 amos in EY
    (cycling should count as rachuv k’mehalech dami); certain gedolim are
    said to have walked on different routes on different days (the
    implication being that each new 4 amos is a separate mitzvah) and
    appreciating the Land that Hashem has given us.

    Kol tuv,
    Moshe

  2. Garnel Ironheart says:

    >that Garnel must be truly ignorant of the transformative impact of Reb Moshe’s Teshuvah

    I’m not sure how saying I’m truly ignorant is very different from calling me ignorant. Perhaps it’s a fine distinction I’m ignorant of. Hmmmmm.

    > I once asked a member of a large charedi community, “Why is everybody here so fat?” My friend, an incisive wit, neatly captured the mindset, “The goy says its not good to be fat. What does the goy know?”

    Is Rav Menken going to castigate Yonasan Roseblum for his comparison as well? My point is that his point is a good one. I still haven’t heard a real rebuttal to that.

    As for the question: shall we ban red meat? What kind of thinking is that? In moderate amounts and cooked in the proper way, red meat is not harmful to the body and provides the body with significant amounts of iron and B12 as well as protein. There is NO safe level of exposure to tobacco and no beneficial effects from smoking. Even alcohol isn’t a valid comparison because in small amounts it actually has heart-healthy properties. The only things smoking can be properly comapred to are street drugs due to the obvious similarities – addiction, absence of benefit, present of harm.

    This also is relevant to what the Igros Moshe says in terms of prohibiting smoking. At one point he notes that smoking is not harmful to all who do it, just some, just like fatty meats and overly spicy foods so one might think that just as the latter two aren’t prohibited for consumptions, neither should smoking be. He also notes that although smoking causes illness, it does so in a tiny minority of smokers.

    However, the Nishmas Avraham, Ch.M. 155:2 notes that the understanding of the extent of damage caused by smoking has changed significantly since the Rav Feinstein issued his psak. We know now the damage smoking directly causes to the body but also indirectly through raising blood pressure, damaging arterial walls and causing atherosclerotic plaque instability. Coronary artery disease is the number 1 killer in North America and smoking is the number 1 modifiable risk factor for heart disease.

    And besides, even if it’s a minority of smokers who gets ill (which isn’t true by today’s data), would the Rav Feinstein say that someone is allowed to play Russian Roulette since the chance of shooting yourself in the head is only 16.7%?

    >While no exhaustive survey of the “yeshivish” community in the US (those who followed R’ Moshe’s teshuvah) has been done, the incidence of smoking in that cohort is certainly less than half that of the overall US population

    The first half of the statement contradicts the sedon. If there’s no exhaustive survey, then what is the basis of the assertion that the incidence of smoking in the yeshivah cohort is lower than the general populace? Furthermore, if Rav Moshe Feinstein didn’t prohibit smoking entirely, he banned people from starting smoking and the vast majority of boys in the yeshivah high schools and beis medrash programs today were either not born or not yet smoking when he issued his psak. Finally, if we’re using anecdotal evidence, why limit ourselves to the US? Go to any large yeshivah in Israel and watch as the students and rebbeim routinely trek down for smoking breaks. Mind you, that itself is a sign of progress because many of these places have become smoke-free inside the building.

    I find Rav Menken’s reliance on the teshuvah of Rav Moshe Feinstein to be limiting as well. Yes, I am no Rav Feinstein and I would never, chas v’shalom, seek to argue with his opinion. My knowledge is as nothing compared to his.

    So instead, here’s a list of folks (with references) who are in the position to disagree and who outright condemned smoking as against the Torah:
    Chafetz Chayim – Likutei Amarim chapter 13
    Tztiz Eliezer Part 15, par. 39 (he also talks about second hand smoke)
    Birkey Yosef Machaziq Brachah O.Ch. Par. 210, subpar. 13

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Garnel, I wrote, “must be truly ignorant of the transformative impact of Reb Moshe’s Teshuvah.” That is very different than calling Garnel ignorant, and I stand behind what I did say. The alternative to ignorance of the facts is, in this case, deliberate misrepresentation thereof.

    Garnel asserts that “healthy change” is seen as “goyish,” and calls a rationale for not going with an outright ban on smoking a “weak excuse.” First of all, the comparison he makes is folly. He compares smoking — which was, until 1973, considered healthy — with Avodah Zarah (idolatry). While cigarette smoking is unhealthy, it is not a death sentence. Shall we ban red meat? Who is “Garnel Ironheart” (or, for that matter, Dr. Fred Rosner or Yaakov Menken) that his judgment is greater than R’ Moshe’s on whether smoking should be deemed a new issur?!

    Furthermore, according to the CDC, 20.9% of the US Adult Population smoked in 2004, as do over 25% of men aged 18-44, all of whom were at most 10 years old when the 1973 studies established a link between smoking and lung cancer. While no exhaustive survey of the “yeshivish” community in the US (those who followed R’ Moshe’s teshuvah) has been done, the incidence of smoking in that cohort is certainly less than half that of the overall US population — and the 25-44 segment, which has the highest overall incidence of smoking in the US, is the segment with arguably the lowest among b’nei yeshiva.

    So Garnel argues that emphasis on health is deemed “goyish”, and has chosen as his “proof” a behavior where the community is vastly ahead of the general population.

    It is important that criticism of any community be both accurate and reasonable, and intended to seek a positive end rather than merely to highlight imagined flaws. I submit as obvious that Garnel’s critique of the charedi community fails on all counts.

  4. Garnel Ironheart says:

    First of all, I never called the Teshuvah unhealthy. I specifically recognized that the Rav couldn’t outright ban smoking because of its implications. In this, Yaakov Menken and I seem to agree, which makes me wonder why he calls me ignorant.

    Or are some people on this board allowed to use those terms and not others?

    As for “decrees that the populace is unable to withstand”, that’s a very weak excuse. If a fundamental flaw was discovered in the way matzah is made nowadays leading to a suspicious of chametz, does anyone have any doubt that the industry would have to change, regardless of the cost which would be passed on to consumers? What was the total cost of wigs destroyed a few years ago when they were declared to be associated with avodah zarah?

    If smoking is wrong, it should be banned and several other major authorities have gone that far. My point, which Menken didn’t address, was in the final paragraph. The biggest resistance in the religious world to healthy change is that it’s seen as goyish. No one is suggesting Jews beging to worship their bodies as temples, chas v’shalom. Rather, there is a middle ground where a person takes care of their body properly so they can use it to optimally serve Hashem. That’s the point I was ignorantly trying to make.

  5. cvmay says:

    Sale time now at the KOSHER GYM in Brooklyn.

  6. Yaakov Menken says:

    What Garnel quotes Dr. Rosner as decrying was, in fact, evidence of Rav Feinstein’s penetrating insight into human nature, and brilliant understanding of the future ramifications of his statements.

    Had Reb Moshe banned smoking outright, tens of thousands of nicotine addicts would have ignored the ban — and tens of thousands of young, impressionable teenagers would have seen that Reb Moshe’s ban was “a decree that the populace is unable to withstand.”

    Instead, as I wrote in an earlier post:

    Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in his wisdom, helped reduce smoking from a popular to decidedly unpopular habit in the span of a generation—a precipitous decline found neither in the charedi community in Israel, nor, to my knowledge, anywhere else. He wrote that those already smoking are protected by their addiction, because “G-d is the guardian of fools.” But for those not smoking, it is forbidden to start. So even the children of smokers were denied the excuse that it’s a family habit, and smoking rapidly became something one does not in the middle of the Beis Medrash, but behind the dorm.

    If Rosner was speaking five years after the Teshuvah, I can understand why he was unable to perceive Reb Moshe’s wisdom. But today it is so obvious to anyone with the least understanding of the charedi community, that Garnel must be truly ignorant of the transformative impact of Reb Moshe’s Teshuvah to somehow call it “unhealthy.”

  7. Garnel Ironheart says:

    On the contrary, it’s a stab going the other way. If it’s a MO authority issuing the psak, is there any chance the chareidi world will follow it?

    I recall Dr. Fred Rosner, a talmid of the Rav Moshe Feinstein’s, ztk”l, talking about how he had begged the Rav to issue a psak banning smoking. The best he could get was one saying that you shouldn’t start and that if you have, you should consider stopping because it’s not healthy. The cynical response to this was that he knew that all the rebbeim and talmidim who smoked wouldn’t stop and he didn’t want to make sinners out of them for violating his psak.

    Unfortunately, this goes back to the original article we’re all debating here: the reluctance of certain parts of the observant world to engage in healthy behaviours simply because they’re perceived as “goyish”. Until that attitude changes, you won’t have any universal acceptance of a psak against smoking.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    “There are actual psaks banning smoking. Unfortunately they’re mostly from the Modern Orthodox poskim.”

    – is this not an ad hominem attack against the modern? why is their authority not worth as much as heimishe poiskim?

  9. HILLEL says:

    Aaron:

    You are falling into a common trap. The low GL diet (Holford Diet) is a narrowly-constructed diet that is quite complicated to carry-out in practice outside of a clinical environment.

    When you eat a diet of COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES such as oatmeal cereal, kasha, whole grain bread, beans, baked potatoes, you are automatically reducing the fat storage hormone insulin.

    It’s the white flour breads and dry cereals (corn flakes) and white rice, sugar and other REFINED CARBOHYDRATES that cause the problem.

    All you need to do is look around the world and notice that the longest-lived, healthiest, and trimmest people are located in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia,Italy; Loma-Linda, California. In an article in the National Geographic Magazine, it was noted that the common denominator of all these places was the emphasis on complex carbohydrates, with vegetables and some fruit.

    Dr. John McDougall has been healing tens of thousands of people from the most destructive degenerative chronic diseases in his his clinic in Santa Rosa California using these simple straightforward science-based principles.

    Of course, you need fats and proteins, too. But the fats should be healthy fats, not the artificially produced Frankenstein hydrogenated trans-fats that are so ubiquitous in today’s breads, cakes, and candies.

    …And the proteins should be mostly plant-based proteins, such as beans and romaine lettuce. Meats, fish, and poultry should be reserved for Shabbos and Yom Tov. The overconsumption of concentrated proteins causes the quick degeneration of the body’s many systems, leading to diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

    Gluttony of any kind, be it carbohydrates, proteins, or fats, will exhaust the body’s ability to cope.

  10. Garnel Ironheart says:

    There are actual psaks banning smoking. Unfortunately they’re mostly from the Modern Orthodox poskim.

  11. Barry says:

    Where is the discussion of the rampant smoking that is prevalent in the Yeshiva/Charedi word. It is a significant contributing factor in the health issues.

    A zero tolerance policy (actually enforced) could stop the problem. The bochurim (and their need to be in the right yeshiva – if for nothing less than shidduchim) can be strong armed into it.

    Why no mention of this??

  12. Aaron says:

    HILLEL:

    June 15, 2007 — Until now, there has been debate in the scientific community regarding the most effective diet (low glycemic index, low fat or low carb) for weight loss. However, low GI is gaining greater momentum after a recent study, involving 73 obese adults, aged between 18 to 35 years, at the Children’s Hospital Boston, showed greater weight loss among participants who followed a low glycemic load (GL) diet over a low fat diet. After 18 months on a low GL diet, high insulin secretors lost fives time more weight (12.8 lbs/5.8kg) compared to the high insulin secretors who followed a low fat diet (2.6 lbs/1.2kg). Those on the low GL diet also had significantly greater decreases in body-fat percentage (-2.6% vs. -0.9%) and did not regain weight between 6 to 18 months – a time when regain virtually always occurs. The results suggest that dieters who have struggled to lose weight in the past may be able to overcome the diet challenge with a simple oral glucose tolerance blood test and a low GL diet based on low GI carbohydrate food choices.

    The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) May 16, 2007, also reported that all participants who followed a low GL diet (regardless of insulin secretion), showed beneficial effects on HDL (good) cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, known risk factors for diseases including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    “People who make a lot of insulin may do especially well on diets that reduce glycemic load”, says Dr. David Ludwig, MD, PhD, the study’s senior investigator and Director of the Optimal Weight for Life clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston. “They tend to do very poorly on low-fat diets, which are generally high in carbohydrates and raise insulin levels even further, which in turn cause weight gain.

    The Glycemic Index (GI) measures the physiological impact of a carbohydrate-containing food on blood sugar, compared to glucose (ranked at 100), replacing the current notion of simple or complex carbohydrates. For weight management, sustained energy and chronic disease prevention, the slower and lower the impact the better. Diets with a high glycemic load result in higher post-prandial (after meal) insulin response which can lead to food cravings, overeating and increased fat storage. A high GI diet is also linked over the long term with the development of Insulin Resistance — a key risk factor in the development of type 2 diabetes and obesity.

    The dietary intolerance toward alternatives emanates exclusively from the low-fat folk. It seems to trouble them that ANYONE could benefit from an alternative to their dietary dogma.

    My experiences with the BEST doctors bear out that the science of medicine is FAR from mature. The study of diet is considerably less mature.

  13. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Okay, since y’all have entered my area of expertise:

    The works of our Creator are truly wondrous. As the only saying goes, the only imperfect thing in nature is the human being and Rabbi Akiva already answered Turnus Rufus on that one.

    A baby is born with all the potential in the world but it is quickly stripped away from him/her. He is given snack foods that are full of sugar and no meaningful nutrients and quickly learns to turn his face away from fruits and vegetables. He is given pizza and hamburgers as rewards for good behaviour and learns that healthy food is a punishment. He is either plopped down in front of a chumash/gemara (if he’s from that community) or a television/Nintendo (from elsewhere) from an early age and learns that it is his babysitter and a source of easy brain stimulation, so easy that it doesn’t really do anything for the brain.

    Everything that G-d put into this world is good for us, in moderation. Low carb diets, high carbs diets, Atkins, Bernstein, when you step back and look at the scientific evidence for all these ideas, you realize one thing: A diet high in natural fibres, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, high in calcium such as dairy products, moderate in protein and low (but not critically) in fat and salt is the best balanced diet for almost anyone. Yes, there are exceptions but the vast majority of people would benefit from this.

    So why don’t they? It takes time and effort to produce and cook and it doesn’t taste quite as good as the competitors.

    It’s the same with exercise. G-d created out bodies to be active. An hour or two a day in repetitive physical activity like walking, jogging, swimming, biking and the like will lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

    Jonathan Rosenblum is concerned about the chareidim and their lifestyles. Sadly, they’re not the only ones. Look at the scene on any street anywhere in North America today and you see obesity is rampant. If it is truly a mitzvah to keep one’s body healthy (and I’m pretty sure it is so we can better serve G-d) and if we’re not quietly picking and choosing which mitzvos to observe, it’s obvious we should all be making a better effort in living a healthy lifestyle so we can better learn and worship our Creator. Otherwise, how will we answer Him when, after asking how we took care of our souls, He asks “And nu, the body? Why didn’t you look after it too so your soul could spend more time doing mitzvos?”

  14. Bob Miller says:

    In college, I found that physical activity including informal sports (table tennis, bowling…) calmed me and boosted my concentration.

  15. HILLEL says:

    TO JACOB HALLER:

    A good answer to your question can be found in SEFER RABBEINU BACHAYA–PREFACE TO PARSHAS SHELACH.

    In English, the short answer is “Praise G-D, and pass the ammunition!”

  16. Tziona says:

    Once I attended a womens’ shiur contrasting Torah Judaism with Greek philosophy, and the (very frum) lecturer was very dismissive of the Hellenistic ideal of sports and the toned body. Afterwards I went up to her and asked her to clarify, and she said that exercise was fine in pursuit of individual health, but that athletic pursuits in team sports and the spirit of the Olympics was a no-no. To the extent that kids’ involvement in team sports can foster self-confidence and relationship building, I thought it was a bit drastic – it seemed as if she was saying that they shouldn’t even start down that path as it would be a slippery slope.

  17. Jacob Haller says:

    Open ended question:

    At what point does our hishtadlus in maintaining health end and when to begin internalizing we read every Rosh HaShanah in U’nesana Tokef?

  18. HILLEL says:

    Aaron:

    You have repeated a common mistake that all too many doctors and laymen make concerning the most effective way to manage–and even reverse–Type-2 diabetes.

    Dr. Johanna Budwig, the world’s leading expert on oils and fats, clearly identified diabetes-2 as a disease of fatty deposits around the insulin receptors of the body’s many cells. These deposits block insulin from entering the cells–there is no shortage of insulin, it just can’t enter the cell to do it’s job.

    Clinical trials by leading doctors, such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman (creator of the world-famous “Eat-to-Live” diet) have confirmed that when a complex-carbohydrate diet, with fruits and vegetables is given to diabetic-2 patients, they clear those fatty deposits and geatly reduce–or even entirely eliminate–their need for insulin drugs.

  19. Ori Pomerantz says:

    This is teaching Halacha to the Levites here (that’s the nearest Jewish equivalent I could find to “preaching to the choir”), but can’t you argue with your Havruta or memorize while walking? Avot 3:9

    ג,ט רבי יעקוב אומר, המהלך בדרך ושונה, ומפסיק משנתו ואומר מה נאה אילן זה, מה נאה ניר זה–מעלין עליו כאילו הוא מתחייב בנפשו.

    Says that you mustn’t stop your learning while walking to watch the view – which implies that it’s OK to walk and learn at the same time.

  20. Aaron says:

    To eliminate the bitul zman, one could put on an mp3 player with Torah or Jewish music and multitask.

    HILLEL, there is ample evidence that if one is borderline type-2 diabetic a low-carb diet is better than what you’re advocating. Extrapolating from Asians to Europeans (or anyone else) is scientifically unsound. We know and accept that Native Americans have a tolerance for alcohol that is much less than ours and it is genetically based. There are other racial tendencies. (And please do not extrapolate from what I said about low-carb diets a conclusion that they are optimal for everyone. That’s a frequent strawman.) A better tack would be to experiment for 3-4 months with different systems (low-fat, low-carb, Zone, whatever) until one finds a system that works. That’s enough time to get a good feel for the system and not enough time to do physical damage. Of course, a doctor should examine blood tests before, during and after the phased experiment.

    The antipathy for exercise in the charedi community is beyond bothersome and arguably borders on child-abuse. Are we raising charedi veal to merely eat and learn in their daled amos or Jews who can demonstrate to the world how to live and enjoy HKB”H’s olam through being ethical in a physical world, from farming to the marketplace?

    And, yes, the school day is WAY too long, denying our children the opportunity to develop any independent interests from sports activities to hobbies to music.

    Raising veal is arguably tzar baalei chayim. Why is it not the same to raise our children as veal whose only muscles are used for turning pages of seforim?

    There’s a commentary that when we’re 120 we’ll be asked if we enjoyed Hashem’s world and held accountable for permissible things we denied ourselves. How much moreso we should be held accountable for having that question asked of us after passing at 70 and not in our 80’s or 90’s due to neglect?

    Time for a contemporary Gadol to argue with a utilitarian calculus that exercise for 4 hours a week x 52 weeks a year x 50 years = 10,400 hours or 1300 eight-hour days or roughly 4 years of full-time effort spread out over a lifetime. If that choice benefits us, on average, with 10 more years of life, extending lifespans from 72 to 82, the so-called “bitul” of 4 years is far outweighed by the net gain of 6 more years one could use to grow in Torah. And, indeed, the evenings of those “full days” of exercise, above, could be spent productively at a shiur.

    Only the innumerate could attempt to argue that exercise is really bitul.

  21. David N. Friedman says:

    Thank you, Jonathan Rosenblum, for an important article. In our shul, our Rebbitzin has laid down the law to the Rabbi and he is quickly losing weight.

    I admit the point that in many of the more Orthodox communities, trim fit bodies are not the majority and you have called the score correctly.

    I have always figured that I owe it to my wife and family to be in peak condition and to the Almighty who has given me this body from which I can praise, labor and love.

  22. HILLEL says:

    TO ORI AND EASTERNER:

    Exercise is not BiTul Zman. Horav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L, took a one-hour brisk walk every day. He used that time to do his favorite activity: examining the NiflaOs HaBorEh–G-D’s wonderous creations and to speak with people who accompanied him.

    The Talmud has many admonitions concerning the need to eat healthy foods, and the RAMBA”M has his health instructions (including exercise) in the fourth chapter of HilChos Deos.

  23. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Didn’t the RaMBaM have a few choice words about maintaining one’s health? Wouldn’t they be as authoritative as anything else said by a Rishon?

    Maybe there should be a custom (for those who can do it) to jog after Shacharit or Mincha.

  24. easterner says:

    if torah is to be studied 168 hr/wk [as in many eidot there is essentieally NO other acceptable activity], exercise can only be seen as bittul zman- something to remove one from eternal life; for this life is only secondary…
    and has anyone seen a Yated recipe that did NOT include 1-2 cups of margarine or other vile shortening? what is it, the widow-maker column?…

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    There is a well known story that R Teller mentioned in his book about RSZA in which RSZA happened to see R Wein jogging one day. RSZA commented that “Unishmartem Meod Es Nafshoseichem” is also a mitzvah as well.

  26. HILLEL says:

    JONATHAN:

    I’ve spent the last two years researching this subject (in order to solve my own health problems).

    While exercise is very, very important–as you have written–diet is much more important. If you pour gunk and poison into your body, exercise will not save you.

    After looking into the many alternative diet plans, I have come to the conclusion that a lifetime diet based on starches (grains, beans, rice, potatoes), together with vegetables and some fruits is the healthiest.

    If you take a look around the world, the Asians–Japanese and Chinese–who eat the tradtional brown-rice-based diet, together with vegetables, are slim, trim, and healthy. The wealthier Asians, who eat much more meat and fish more often are fatter and more subject to our American degenerative diseases–cancer, heart attacks,and diabetes.

    Meat and fish should be reserved for Shabbos and Yom-Tov. During the week, you should be eating whole-grain bread and cereals (oatmeal, Kasha/buckwheat), soups (bean, tomato, cabbage), fresh salads, freshly-juiced vegetables (carrot-apple-celery), baked potatoes.

    For weight reduction, cut out the bread and avoid all fatty oils and foods (except flaxseed oil).

    The leading advocte of this super-healthy diet is Dr. John Mcdougall. He runs a very successful heath center in California. You can purchase his excellent books and DVD’s here:

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/books_tapes.html

  27. Calev says:

    This message is so badly needed in the observant world – not just the Chareidi communities. While avoiding the desperate youth-chasing fads of the secular world, we must recognise that we have a responsibility to look after ourselves physically as well as intellectually and spiritually. Not only does physical fitness aid concentration and other study skills but it can help us ward off depression. So moderate exercise and a decent diet can help us learn more Torah, help us to act on what we learn with good humour and may be even give us more time to spend with our family and friends. Those in the “modern” orthodox world are more exposed to this idea. I sincerely hope that work starts quickly to change the culture in Chareidi communities so that their positive influence can be enhanced. May the Gedolim exercise their influence to this end just as many of them have by speaking out against smoking.

  28. Moshe Schorr says:

    And I thought Jonathan Rosenblum was “frum”. :)

  29. G B says:

    While it’s not too late to begin an exercise program later in life, the real problem is that our school-age children, from first grade onwards, are denied a meaningful outlet for physical activity because of cultural taboos against sports, and the academic schedule at most day schools/yeshivos/beis yaakovs is already ‘too full.’