Health & Wellness


Many clergy know that a strong body is nearly as important as strong faith

By Larry Urish     1/11/2018


The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to ask some important questions: What are your goals for 2018? How can you deepen your faith as a Catholic? How much can your priest bench press? 

That last gem isn’t as absurd as it sounds. Granted, the whole idea of your priest loading up 135 pounds and knocking out 10 reps before Mass may seem peculiar … but why?  

Priests are fellow human beings, and while faith and spirituality are cornerstones of a life well lived, so is a strong, healthy body. So, yes, many priests work out and eat well. Consider this New Year’s resolution: follow their lead. 

“I work out about two to three times a week,” says Rev. Msgr. Douglas Cook, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. “For me, working out is about keeping my flexibility and avoiding back trouble. I do some cardio, and then I do various exercises that keep my back out of trouble.” 

It isn’t important what specific exercises that Msgr. Doug does to stay in shape. Rather, it’s the fact that he works out on a consistent basis – a tall order for someone so busy – and it’s how he makes the time for something so important. 

“What really helps me is appreciating and taking care of all of God’s gifts, and that includes my body,” he says. “For me, staying active promotes gratitude and good stewardship of our health and our bodies… We’re not disembodied, we’re spiritual beings – but it comes in a package: muscles, nerves, joints. Having a body to keep in shape helps me to realize my limits, that I can’t do everything. And it gives all of us a greater appreciation of what God can do in our lives beyond our limited abilities.” 

The many benefits of exercise are well chronicled. Here are but a few: Staying fit lowers the risk of stroke, colon cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Along with a decreased need for medication, a regular exercise program results in fewer visits to the doctor or hospital.  

Although Msgr. Doug wasn’t athletic growing up, he’s been physically active after making a New Year’s resolution in his early 30s. A new assignment to the Office of Canonical Services involved sitting at a desk most of the day. Fearful of gaining weight, he committed to working out at a nearby gym for six months.  

“Until then,” he says. “I’d never walked into a gym. Now that I work out regularly, I feel better and sleep better, my back is more comfortable and I have a better overall sense of wellbeing. I enjoy working out. It gives my brain a chance to unwind. And simply knowing that I’m doing the right thing, that alone promotes health.” 

Msgr. Doug exercises at Body Wise Fitness, in Costa Mesa ( Gil Yurly, the gym’s co-owner (with his wife, Laurel) has known him for about nine years.  

Unlike Msgr. Doug, Yurly has been an athlete all his life. “I love all sports and played baseball in college,” he says. “I loved lifting weights to help with other sports, and after baseball, I got hooked on bodybuilding.”  

It paid off. Yurly was named Mr. Natural California twice, as a novice in 1992 and in the Open Division in 2002. His involvement in physical training resulted in Body Wise Fitness. Yurly’s expertise, however, goes beyond training. 

“I’ve worked with 23 priests, six bishops and a number of archbishops throughout the country with my weight-loss program,” says Yurly, a member of Holy Family Cathedral. “Nutrition is 60 percent of a healthy lifestyle. Most people who want to lose weight through exercise alone won’t succeed.”  

Still, he loves helping others in his gym. 

Like any activity, finding the time to exercise is easier if workouts are scheduled. Many exercise on the fly, taking a walk while answering phone messages, for example. Others cut back on frivolous things, like TV, and those who choose a workout that’s enjoyable are far more apt to stick with it. 

Those just starting out should begin slowly. Take a 10-minute walk or have salad for lunch twice a week. Be grateful for the little wins, and keep a workout log to see the big picture.  

“If I could give one bit of advice,” Yurly says, “it’s this: Set one health-related goal – just one. And be consistent about doing what it takes to reach it.”