Physical Fitness and Recreation
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Thorstenson, Clark T.
The Church has always endorsed recreation and fitness as desirable and worthy of promotion. Recreational activities can strengthen social connections and a sense of community. Proper physical activities are any that are "clean, beneficial to health, conducive to true happiness and in harmony with the highest moral standards" ("Wholesome Recreation," p. 430). A latter-day apostle stated, "Recreation-good Latter-day Saint recreation-is one of the devices by which we may help the young people of this Church to learn and love the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and thereby learn to live righteously" (Petersen, p. 554).
During the nineteenth century, when most religions were condemning play as sinful (T.D., p. 178), Joseph Smith and Brigham Young advocated recreation as part of their religious teaching. Both men participated in recreational activities and sanctioned wholesome amusements. Moreover, it was noted of Brigham Young that "he not only enjoyed recreational pursuits himself, but some of his August religious speeches were on this subject" (Skidmore, p. 25). In the early days of the Church, recreation also provided respite from work, drudgery, hardship, and persecution. It is likely that the large number of converts from many nationalities and cultures, although they were drawn together by a testimony of Christ and the restoration of the gospel, were more easily assimilated into the new community of Saints when recreational activities were a common denominator (Skidmore, p. 9). According to one researcher on recreation, the Church was the first religious organization to construct halls adjacent to, or adjoining, chapels for the formal promotion of such activities as games and sports, music, drama, speech, and dance (Brinley, pp. 43, 104-105).
The physical body is viewed as a temple of God that the individual has stewardship from God to care for properly: "I speak of the religious doctrine which teaches that the human body is sacred, the veritable tabernacle of the divine spirit which inhabits it, and that it is a solemn duty of mankind to protect and preserve it from pollutions and unnecessary wastage and weakness" (Richards, p. 208). Isaiah recorded a promise to those who are willing to "wait upon the Lord" that they would "run and not be weary; and walk, and not faint" (40:31). This promise is affirmed in the revelation to Joseph Smith known as the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:20). Physical and spiritual health is promised as a consequence of obedience to spiritual law and observance of specific dietary and health habits.
Brinley, Eldon D. "The Recreational Life of the Mormon People." Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1943.
Evans, Richard L. "Great Miracle: Housing for Body and Mind." Church News (Aug. 26, 1967):16.
McKay, David O. "The Whole Man." IE 55 (Apr. 1952):221-22.
Petersen, Mark E. "Building Spirituality Through Recreation." IE 51 (Sept. 1948):554-55, 598.
Richards, Stephen L. Where Is Wisdom. Salt Lake City, 1955.
Skidmore, Rex A. Mormon Recreation In Theory and Practice: A Study of Social Change. Philadelphia, 1941.
T.D. "Repose." Nation 2 (Feb. 1866):178.
"Wholesome Recreation: Ward Teacher's Message for August, 1939." IE 42 (July 1939):430.
CLARK T. THORSTENSON