Integrating Faith in Fitness

As educators in a Catholic environment that encompasses the body and soul, we also have the opportunity to integrate our faith into exercise programs.

By Michele Faehnle

Catholic sports trainers, authors and fitness experts recommend some simple ways to strengthen children’s bodies and souls.

As the school nurse, one of the roles I play is in directing our school’s wellness program. Health and fitness are an important part in helping our children learn to the best of their ability. Research has proven that physical activities increase children’s ability to learn, and children who are in better physical condition perform better on challenging tests and schoolwork (read more at “How Physical Fitness May Promote School Success”). Many schools are working on implementing wellness and fitness programs into their schools curriculum with stretching in the classroom, extra recess time, and offering after-school exercise programs.

As educators in a Catholic environment that encompasses the body and soul, we also have the opportunity to integrate our faith into the exercise programs.  Just as we try to integrate our Catholic Identity into our classroom subjects, tying in faith into fitness is also important. As Catholics we are concerned for each student’s physical and spiritual well-being.  As Pope Pius XII writes, the church has concern for sport in as much as it is “ordered to the intellectual and moral perfection of the soul.” (PIUS XII, Address to the Italian Sports Centre, October 9, 1955 [our translation]. Original Italian text in “Discorsi e radiomessaggi di Pio XII” XVII (1955), 283.)

Catholic sports trainers, authors and fitness experts recommend some simple ways to strengthen children’s bodies and souls.

Praying While Playing

Micheal Carrera, author of Conditioning Young Athletes and The Catholic Workout writes, “As for faith and fitness in schools, my general belief or mantra is that “we should use our bodies as an expression of our love for God.” I also like to break it down further when discussing sports and activities in school.”

Faith does not have to be directly integrated in the activity but if that is the goal or objective, I like to call it “praying while playing.” The kids can play a game or do an exercise for a specific period of time (the activity can last 1 to 3 minutes) enough to elevate their heart rate and then a whistle blows and they stop and take a few seconds/minute to pray … the purpose of this is to help elevate the senses to prayer. A rapid increase in heart rate and breathing rate will help them understand the process of offering up our suffering to God. It is a simple way of helping them direct their senses to God, by using their bodies as an instrument. After a short prayer or intention of gratitude, the activity continues and the process is repeated.

Using the Rhythm of Prayer

Rebecca Dussault, Founder of, is led by the scripture verse “Glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) The 2006 Olympian loves to combine prayer and exercise in a mutually beneficial way with her five children.

She shares, “I do small non-distracting strength or stretching moves to the different rhythms represented in the prayer. For example, I use different exercise positions like the plank position and incorporate a prayer like the Hail Mary. I pray the first part of the Hail Mary in the plank position, then rest the body and pray the second part of the prayer. This can also be done with other prayers like the Our Father or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy prayers.”  She recommended coming up with a catchy title such as “Plankful Prayers, Chaplet Challenge, Gentle with Jesus.”  She added, “kids love to wiggle while attempting to pray. I think overall that if the right exercises or movements are encouraged it call help draw the youths deeper into the rhythm and focus of prayer itself.”

All for the Glory of God

There are also Catholic exercise videos that incorporate prayer and exercise that can be used to help incorporate faith and fitness.  Pietra Fitness and SoulCore integrate strengthening and stretching with Catholic prayer and meditation.

Pietra Fitness Founder Karen Barbieri said the purpose of Pietra Fitness is to help “people grow in strength physically, spiritually and mentally through our classes, all for the Glory of God.”

Strength coach and SoulCore leader Lori Crock shared, “As someone who instructs people how to exercise, I have found peace and joy in using the SoulCore method to combine praying the Rosary with gentle movement, stretching and strengthening. Activity combined with contemplative prayer is a powerful way to grow closer to Jesus and to become more grateful for the gift of our physical bodies.”

Lori writes, “In teaching children to incorporate prayer into their exercise program we can help instill the teaching of St. John Paul II, who referred to the human body as the ‘masterpiece of God’s creation’ and help them understand they are stewards of this immense gift, as imperfect as it may be, and ask God for His strength to care for it and to use it to serve others.”

As we integrate faith and fitness in our schools, may our prayer for our children be that of St. John Paul II in his Homily on Sports: “Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever. Amen!”

Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.