Exercise for fun and profit

I hate exercise ... or at least I thought I did. For years I allowed myself to be unfit and fluctuate in weight because of diets or lack thereof. Now I think I'm on to something and it feels good - exercise!

After several years of failed attempts I am finally on a regimen that works and I feel so much better and stronger. How did this happen and why do I consider it important? What were the road blocks to success?

First of all, success became possible when I decided that it was time for a life change. I couldn't stand it anymore. God had given me a perfectly healthy body and I was having trouble walking up stairs! I also realized that I would not be able to walk and carry on an active life in later years if I didn't do something. Twisting my knee and ending up on crutches for six weeks taught me that painful lesson, and there were also a number of other things telling me that I could be more useful in God's kingdom if I took better care of myself. I'm probably not going to run a marathon, mind you, but at least, Lord willing, I'll have more energy and be able to go where I need to go! And, perhaps I'll get to see my children's children and enjoy their company for a while.

A spiritual component

Exercise, believe it or not, has a spiritual component. Medical doctor Larry Hull and his twin brother Jerry , who is a professor at Northwest Nazarene University, wrote a book on spiritual formation called "Fully Alive." Larry, who writes about habits, exercise, fitness and weight control, says "Strong character and good habits are inseparable." It's true. People with strong character usually do not favor the easy way out. They know that good habits will benefit them and others in the end.

Please do not misunderstand me. One does not have to exercise in order to be strong believer. God loves each of us and works to form our characters in many ways. What I am saying is that exercise is one of those means by which God can build character. For example, the habit of perseverance that one learns in keeping up with an exercise regimen, is carried over into other areas of life. It builds confidence and shows the person exercising that suffering can have a useful end. I write that with a grin. As one who did not like to exercise, I was not so thrilled about sweating, aching muscles and heavy breathing. I used to consider that suffering. Now I find that sweating tells me that I'm doing well. I also found that getting in shape may take a while, but the end result is exciting. Exercise now feels good. Besides, if it is a well done exercise program, muscle pain is not an issue.

My roadblocks

As a young person I lacked self-confidence. And, not being particularly athletic, I dreaded P.E. classes. When other students would get mad at me for missing a ball or some other klutzy action, I just went further into myself thinking that I was a failure. As I became an adult, I left physical fitness out of the equation for my life because it had been painful. Now I look back on my life and realize that what I was missing was fun. Think about it. As a little kid, before junior high hit, didn't you like to go out and play? I did. My friends and I rollerskated and played Horse. We rode bikes all over the neighborhood and played hopscotch and foursquare on our driveways. We exercised, but we didn't know we were exercising because we were having fun. My challenge as a middle-aged adult has been to find something active that I enjoyed.

As fitness guru Richard Simmons says in one of his "Sweatin' to the Oldies" videos, "If it ain't fun, it ain't gonna get done."

And that is true. I have found now that I really enjoy bicycling on the country roads around our house and "Sweatin' to the Oldies" (Mike calls it "Dancin' with Dickie") on days when I can't go out. Walking is also fun, especially when you are with a friend or spouse or the dog.

Simmons says that there are six steps to self-esteem and permanent weight loss:
  • Think positive
  • Practice patience
  • Be forgiving
  • Shed the past
  • Have faith
  • Count your blessings
These steps have Biblical roots. In Philippians 4:8 Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Isn't that what Simmons calls "positive thinking"? There's nothing wrong with patting ourselves on the back for succeeding in a good habit. The best thing to do is start small, as Larry Hull writes. Do a little at a time and congratulate yourself for succeeding in that one thing.

Simmons' second step, practice patience, is encouragement to develop one of the fruits of the spirit. It really does take patience to succeed in anything. In an exercise program, you won't realize overwhelming success all at once. It takes time. That's why you have to congratulate yourself for what you do right and then get back on the bandwagon if you fall off.

The last steps are self-evidently biblical and I may write more on them next time. However, right now in closing I want to share with you the steps that Larry Hull talks about. They are very helpful:
  • Start simple: one exercise
  • Do it consistently: five days a week (I'm not there yet)
  • Do it by cues: certain time of day, such as when you get up, when you get home or right before dinner (Now that I'm not working at an office I do it after I get up. I used to exercise about 30 minutes after dinner on nights when I didn't have to go out.)
  • Make it fun
  • When you forget or miss, do not quit
  • Get positive reinforcements by telling yourself you are in control and capable of changing your habits.
Hull writes, "Your long-term goal is to live better with less health problems, increased energy, more confidence and greater self-esteem. You might live longer as well."

Living longer? Living better? Sounds pretty good to me.