Preparing for the Physical Demands of a Mission

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“Bishops and stake presidents have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation” (First Presidency letter, Dec. 11, 2002).

I have written previously about preparing for the emotional demands of missionary service, and much of this site is about spiritually preparing, but one thing I haven’t written much on is what young people should do to prepare for the physical demands of missionary service. Missionary work is just that–work, and it is often hard physically work. Missionaries should be physically healthy and be capable of performing the physical tasks common to missionary work.

Physical preparation includes getting your body physically fit through exercise, learning to follow a healthy sleep schedule, being accustomed to following personal hygiene rules, and learning to eat healthy foods, among other things. A few years ago, Donald B. Doty, Chairman of the Missionary Department Health Services, wrote an article for the March 2007 Ensign magazine called “Missionary Health Preparation.” In the article, he advised future missionaries to start habits of physical health long before their full-time mission. Here is some of his advice.

Regular / Daily Physical Exercise

“A missionary must be able to walk an average of six miles (10 km) per day and ride a bicycle 12 miles (19 km) per day. Prospective missionaries who aren’t walking more than from the car to a class or a job will likely get sore feet and blisters when they reach the mission field. Those who are not used to riding a bicycle regularly will also become very “saddle sore” when a bike becomes their primary means of transportation. A missionary who is out of shape will be fatigued by missionary work, and a tired missionary is more open to discouragement and health concerns than a missionary who is physically fit.”

“Prospective missionaries can prepare for the rigors of missionary life by establishing a regular pattern of aerobic exercise—walking, running, or cycling for one hour every day. Those whose primary form of exercise is playing electronic games or text messaging will take at least four months to achieve the level of conditioning that will allow them to actually enjoy a workout.”

Healthy Eating Habits, Weight, and Cooking

“Rather than living on sugar and fat, young people should learn to enjoy meals consisting of protein and fiber, such as lean meat, yogurt, vegetables, and fruit. Also, drinking more than 12 ounces of carbonated beverage per day is too much. The Missionary Department requires that missionaries have a body mass index no higher than 37. This is actually on the border between obesity and morbid obesity. Prospective missionaries should strive to keep their weight in the normal range, thereby avoiding obesity-related health problems. Being markedly under normal weight can also have serious health consequences.”

“Parents can help their sons and daughters learn how to prepare simple, healthy meals. I stress the word simple because missionaries often cook food on a hot plate or a single gas burner and may not have an oven. Every prospective missionary needs to know the basics of cooking and sanitary food handling.”

Adequate Sleep Habits

“Although sleep needs vary, young adults generally need to sleep seven to eight hours per day. Ideally, they should be in bed by 10:30 to midnight and out of bed by 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. Staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and sleeping until 10:00 a.m. leaves a person feeling tired all the time and wanting to sleep until noon. Staying up all night to cram for examinations, playing video games most of the night, or working a graveyard shift can be detrimental because keeping late hours resets the body’s clock. Missionaries live a scheduled life. They are in bed by 10:30 p.m. and up by 6:30 a.m. every day. This schedule will be difficult unless prospective missionaries get into a similar routine well in advance of the call to service.”

Employment and Work Ethic

“Missionary work is just that, work. There is nothing easy about missionary work, so young people should develop the ability to work reliably. A regular job teaches such habits as getting to work on time, not missing work unnecessarily, doing assigned tasks well, looking for more work when the assigned task is completed, and not going home early. A job also helps young people understand the value of money. Where possible, prospective missionaries should plan to pay as much of the cost of the mission as possible, rather than depending on parents or donations from others. Helping pay for their own missions will help prospective missionaries learn to live within the stringent missionary allowance.”

Personal Hygiene

“Personal cleanliness and good grooming habits are vital to missionary success. Favorable first impressions are lasting. Clean hands also help missionaries stay healthy and prevent the spread of communicable diseases.” On dental health, he said, “prevention is the key to good dental health. This means a habit of brushing teeth at least morning and night, daily use of dental floss, and consistent visits to your dentist.” Not mentioned by Brother Doty, but other personal hygiene items probably applicable to some young people is getting in the habit of showering daily, using deodorant, and learning to do their own laundry.

Finally, Brother Doty encouraged young people not to wait to establish these habits of physical health. “Those who wait to prepare until the last minute or until after they have received the call to serve may not be ready and may even have their missions delayed.” Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “The single most important thing you can do to prepare for a call to serve is to become a missionary long before you go on a mission.” (“Becoming a Missionary,” Ensign, Nov. 2005) That includes becoming physically fit and ready for the physical demands of missionary work. And as missionaries are more physically prepared, they will be better servants in hands of God and more effective in inviting other to come unto Christ.

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