From Opening Hearts, Chapter 5’s Cardinal rules for healthy living: Rule 3 Exercise
Human beings are created for activity; our bodies are made to move. Yet in our technological world too many of us spend most of our lives sitting. We sit in cars, at computers, in front of televisions and desks, and at sporting events where other people exercise while we watch— often as we eat junk.
Obviously this is not good for our bodies especially when combined with the poor dietary habits described previously. All this inactivity leads to arthritis, hardened arteries, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, tendonitis, and many other ailments besides. Exercise is the simple remedy.
You don’t have to run yourself into the ground to perform a healthy amount of exercise. Although vigorous activity is good for you, be careful to avoid sprains, stress injuries, fractures, and other injuries that result from careless or excessive athleticism. A simple program of aerobic exercise such as walking, light lifting, and occasional stretching will keep your body limber and your blood and oxygen flowing.
Aerobic exercise delivers oxygen to your blood and muscles while you work them, as opposed to anaerobic exercise which is a high intensity workout done in short bursts. In aerobic exercise you can perform the activity without becoming short of breath.
Aerobic exercise burns calories, tones limbs, nurtures muscle growth, sharpens the mind, alleviates depression, reduces physical and emotional stress, promotes sound sleep, and strengthens the heart and lungs. Beyond all those benefits, it also lowers your risk of osteoporosis, aids your digestive system, corrects dangerous blood chemistries, and helps your whole body use oxygen, water, and nutrients more efficiently.
Exercise also produces the feel-good hormones known as endorphins that make us feel better physically as they relieve pain naturally. They also elevate mood and ease depression. God designed us to move and when we do, God rewards us with many benefits.
In The Better Life Diet book, I go into great detail about the benefits and specifics of helpful aerobic exercise but the central information about exercise can be summed up with the FIT acronym which stands for: frequency, intensity, and time.
To get in shape and stay that way, consider the frequency at which you exercise along with the intensity of your practice and the amount of time you invest in pursuing it. No single plan is right for everyone but a few simple activities like walking are always available to just about anyone, especially if you don’t want to join a gym. To get or stay fit can be accomplished with minimal outlay of time and money. What is needed most is the commitment to love yourself enough to make exercise a priority.
The plan can be as easy as this:
- Cultivate the daily habit of walking two miles or so at a brisk pace. If you can’t manage two miles, start with one. The point is to get moving. Once your body adapts to that activity, your capacity for walking will almost certainly increase and all you need to do it is a decent pair of shoes.
- Add a few minutes of repetitive weight lifting, preferably with hand weights between three and twenty-five pounds. When lifting, use slow and smooth strokes so that you stretch rather than jerk your muscles and joints as you move. Do this once or twice per day depending on your fitness level and physical strength. Note: lifting weights assumes you have no physical impairments that would make such activity dangerous.
- Warm up and cool down with exercises like push-ups, leg lifts, or other forms of slow stretching calisthenics. Repeat each exercise until your muscles begin to tire and then move on to another activity. Even-numbered repetition sets are best; they give you both an easy goal to work toward and a clear point at which to stop.
If possible, play a sport, ride a bike, or swim. If you’re social and need others to keep you motivated, attend classes such as yoga, dance, weight-lifting, or other fitness-based group activities. The fitness routine you adopt will depend upon your physical health as well as the time and money you choose to spend. However almost everyone can manage at least thirty to forty-five minutes of aerobic exercise each day.
As you begin your exercise program, if you find yourself breathing heavily, slow down until you can breathe normally. An easy way to check your intensity level is the talk test: when you can both talk and exercise at the same time, you’re exercising at the proper level.
One additional benefit of an exercise program is that it can be combined with a prayerful meditative practice. Activities like walking, jogging, swimming, or bike riding can be opportunities to clear your mind and tune into the wonders of the natural world. With the proper intention, movement itself becomes prayer.
A modest, consistent amount of exercise combined with good eating habits, helps you achieve and maintain an optimal weight. As an added benefit, physical activity reduces stress. And that brings us to the next concept.