In "Sir Galahad" by Alfred, Lordr Tennyson, the title character says, “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.”
I am convinced that physical health affects spiritual health and vice versa. The Lord would have His missionaries be as healthy as possible in order to best serve Him. Missionary work is just that: spiritual, mental, and physical work!
As a member of the Missionary Medical Committee, I am continually reviewing the physical health and medical problems of actively serving missionaries. Unfortunately, about 3 percent of LDS missionaries are sent home early due to unforeseen health issues. Let’s review several areas where appropriate preparation can mean avoiding many of the reasons why missionaries struggle physically.
Full-time missionaries must be able to walk an average of six miles per day and ride a bicycle 12 miles per day. The Missionary Handbook recommends exercising 30 minutes daily, Monday through Saturday. Avoiding fatigue and weakness helps to stave off the discouragement and rejection that come at times during missionary service. Getting off the couch and learning to put in a hard day’s work would be invaluable preparation for a mission.
Potential missionaries need to cut back on the junk food, put away the caffeine, and learn to follow a few simple guidelines. Teach your future missionary to eat and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy, as well as to stay hydrated and lose weight or keep weight down. Many missionary applications are delayed or denied due to the BMI limit of less than or equal to 37. An ideal BMI is 19–24, overweight is 25–29, and obese is 30+. Take steps now to improve BMI if necessary.
Missionaries are to arise at 6:30 a.m. and are to retire to bed at 10:30 p.m. That means a solid eight hours of sleep per night. I believe those who do best are obedient to even these “small” rules.
Among the most common problems we doctors encounter when screening missionary applications are tattoos and body piercings. In short, don’t have them. All nose jewels, body piercings, and toe rings must be removed—but sisters are allowed one set of earrings. All tattoos must be photographed with an accompanying description and sent in with the application. These are reviewed on a case-by-case basis by a committee. The general rule is that they must not be visible outside the clothing. They may need to be removed prior to missionary service.
Mental Health/Chronic Health Conditions
These are common and serious concerns that, if left undertreated, can cut a mission short. An appropriate professional should submit a letter detailing any history of emotional or other chronic issues with the application, including stability on or off relevant medications for a period of six months prior to applying. Further instructions as to the need for continued care, testing, and medications during the mission should also be included. This information will assist the committee in making geographic recommendations to the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who will make the assignment. Those with a history of mental health issues or learning disorders, such as dyslexia or ADHD, can certainly serve missions as long as appropriate accommodations are given where needed. Depression and separation anxiety are two of the most common conditions seen. I recommend trial periods away from home at camps or at school to see how a prospective missionary does prior to leaving for a mission.
Routine medical and dental checkups are strongly recommended. Daily brushing and flossing of teeth are important habits, along with defensive driving and using seat belts and bicycle helmets. Hand washing and immunizations can prevent frequent and serious illnesses and should be part of every missionary’s health care.