Some people love to exercise, others hate it, but everyone knows that it is a vital component of properly maintaining one’s physical health.

While the Torah does not specifically speak of exercise, in the Biblical era the vast majority of people lived lives of constant physical activity. Abraham and Sarah walked/rode from Padan Aram hundreds of miles to the land of Canaan, and then they continued on to Egypt. Moses followed Jethro’s sheep over mountains. The Israelites spent 40 years marching across the wilderness.

Any discussion of Judaism’s perspective on exercise goes back to a verse in Deuteronomy, which states: “Only take heed of yourself, and keep your soul diligently…Be very careful to guard your soul” (Deuteronomy 4: 9,15). The fact that Deuteronomy 4:9 distinguishes between caring for one’s self and one’s soul emphasizes that Judaism values both body and soul.

When it comes to taking care of one’s body, few of the great Torah scholars are seen as more definitive than Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam, Spain/Egypt, 12th century), who was a renowned physician in addition to being a great Torah scholar. On the importance of exercise, the Rambam wrote: “As long as you exercise, take care not to eat to the point of satiation and keep your bowels soft, you will not fall ill and your strength will increase…The opposite is true of someone who leads a sedentary life and takes no exercise…Even if such a person eats good food and takes care of himself according to proper medical principles” (Hilchot Deot 4:15).

The Rambam defines exercise as: “any form of movement-whether vigorous, gentle or a combination of both-that involves some effort and causes an increase in one’s breathing rate” (Hanhagat Habriut 1:3).

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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