Why be Healthy?

The following speech given by Larry A. Tucker on May 28, 2013 provides a wonderful explanation of why we should take care of our bodies.

For a printed version, click here.


During a special Council in Heaven, our Heavenly Father announced His divine plan—the great plan of happiness. The purpose of the plan was to provide an opportunity for His spirit children to “obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection.”1 We were so excited to learn about our Father’s plan that we “shouted for joy.”2 Why were we so happy to learn about Heavenly Father’s wonderful plan? It was partly because our heavenly parents have glorified bodies of flesh and bones. For us to become like Them and to receive a fullness of joy, we knew that our celestial spirits had to be united with physical bodies—bodies created in the image of God.

The scriptures tell us that our bodies are temples.... Brothers and sisters, do we treat our bodies as temples? ...Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Quorum of the Seventy said: Sacred means worthy of veneration and respect. By designating something as sacred, the Lord signals that it is of higher value and priority than other things. Sacred things are to be treated with more care, given greater deference, and regarded with deeper reverence.6 Temples are sacred. The human body is sacred. It follows that our bodies should be given higher priority and more care than other things. Elder Pieper continued: “That which is sacred to God becomes sacred to us only through the exercise of agency; each must choose to accept and hold sacred that which God has defined as sacred.”7 Our bodies are holy in the Lord’s eyes. Do we see our bodies as sacred or merely as an object that we have to put up with?...As a professor I spend much of my time studying how we can best care for our bodies—what we need to do to keep them healthy and fit. Because our bodies are special gifts, they deserve special care. In today’s world it is common for some—even for members of the Church—to rationalize that they do not have time to care for their bodies. They give little thought to the food they consume and view exercise as an activity only for athletes. Can you imagine how the Lord would feel if one of His holy temples were neglected because it was viewed as insignificant or not worth the effort?

The Lord understands everything about the human body. He created it. He knows how to make it healthy and what causes it to weaken and die. ...Science is a long way from those discoveries, but, gradually, through research and the Lord’s inspiration, we are learning how to best nourish, exercise, and repair the body. In Doctrine and Covenants 130 we learn that if we want the blessings of good health, we have to obey certain laws. I love verses 20 and 21: There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. Notice that all blessings are predicated on obedience to certain laws. Blessings—and, for that matter, negative consequences—do not occur randomly. Natural laws govern all aspects of the universe, including how the human body functions. These laws are eternal and unchanging. They are “truths.”...We now know that much of good health and disease is determined by living or not living certain laws.

Smoking is not a temptation to most of us. It is clearly hazardous, and we have a commandment to not smoke. But what about exercise and physical fitness? This may surprise you. Adults who smoke have a death rate that is about two times higher than nonsmokers,14 but those who are unfit have a death rate that is about four times higher than those who are fit.15 That is amazing. Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous, but few are aware of the hazards of being unfit and the protection afforded those who are fit. My objective is not to minimize the risks of smoking but to emphasize the value of becoming fit to protect our wonderful temples.

As we know, the Word of Wisdom contains much more than counsel to not smoke or drink. It also encourages us to eat healthy foods, especially plants. Doctrine and Covenants 89:10–11 states: All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving. Herbs are plants. Research shows that fruits and vegetables are especially good for us.18 Most adults eat only a small fraction of the recommended servings. Remember, we have to live the law to receive the blessing. Similarly, in verse 12 we are encouraged to eat meat sparingly. I testify that the Lord wants to bless us. That is why He gave us the Word of Wisdom. If we will follow His counsel, we will have better health, less suffering, and longer lives.

When we eat unhealthy food, there are also immediate consequences, but they are not as obvious. At the cellular level, damage occurs. Specialized equipment is needed to observe these acute changes, so they go unnoticed—at least for a time. When we engage in exercise, like brisk walking, there are dozens of benefits. We know this because research has identified the laws that govern the effects of exercise on the body. In short, our day-to-day choices have significant consequences on the body. Even if we do not know the science behind the effects, the consequences still occur day by day, month by month, and year by year. Hundreds of scientific studies illustrate the concept that our day-to-day behaviors have important effects on our health. A classic investigation is the Nurses’ Health Study.19 It included more than 84,000 women who were tracked for fourteen years by Harvard researchers. Results showed that 82 percent of all the heart attacks and strokes that occurred in the sample could be attributed to just five lifestyle factors—five choices: smoking, obesity, physical activity, alcohol use, and diet. More than eight of every ten heart attacks and strokes that occurred during the fourteen years could be accounted for by those five choices—not genetics, not environment, not education: just lifestyle. Without question the day-to-day care we give our bodies makes a tremendous difference in our health.

Line upon line, day by day, our bodies change ever so slightly based on what we eat, the extent to which we exercise, whether or not we smoke, and other important choices. The daily consequences appear insignificant, but when summed together the effects are amazing—often dictating the diseases we develop, how long we live, and the quality of our lives. While walking the roads of Palestine, Jesus encouraged others to follow Him. We will also be blessed if we follow His footsteps. Because He was not denied agency, He could choose for Himself. Christ chose to live a life of sacrifice. He displayed remarkable self-control. He learned at an early age to do what is right and let the blessings follow. To care for our temples, we too must learn self-control. If there were no consequences, most of us would rather eat a cookie than a carrot or be entertained rather than exercise. However, we often have to sacrifice today to earn the richest blessings tomorrow. It may take more than a lifetime to learn to master the flesh as Christ did, but the Lord expects us to do our best and to keep trying.

Balance is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies need daily exercise and a healthy diet, but we can overdo. Remember, the Lord’s piano has a full keyboard, and the best music is played using a variety of keys, not by pounding on just one or two. The Lord is pleased when His Saints are fit, not fanatical. On the other hand, in our culture the tendency is to under-do. Doing too little or too much can cause us to lose choice blessings.

Some rewards in life require special talents, but that is not the case for good health. Developing a healthy lifestyle simply requires the right attitude, hard work, and self-discipline. After all, how skilled do we have to be to walk a few miles each day? The path to good health is not without challenges, but the rewards are not limited to a special few who have exceptional abilities. The Lord wants all of us to enjoy good health, so He designed a body that can be kept in good condition with minimal talent.

[...] the human body is a magnificent gift and a significant responsibility. It is our Master’s finest creation. We are more like our heavenly parents—not less—because we have bodies. Our bodies are sacred temples, worthy of special care and respect. Sacrifice is required to keep our temples in good condition. Do not give up. A fit body is a righteous desire. I testify that if we will turn to the Lord and call upon Him, He will help us, but He will not circumvent our agency. With the right attitude and the Lord at our side, we can learn to live a healthy lifestyle, which will enable us to more fully participate in life and enjoy its blessings.