Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bodily Exercise Profiteth

Last night, as I climbed into bed, a full moon was shining through my window, lighting up the room. I love the moon. It has always made me smile. It seems so serene, and peaceful. I pulled back my curtains a tidge, so I could lay in bed and fall asleep looking at it.
Exercise photos always look serene.
That has not been my experience.
I'm all sweat and huffing.

I am a big proponent of women's fitness. I truly am. Why? Well, that is the big question. I started my personal fitness journey when I was 19. I had gained quite a bit of weight in my later teen years. I was not happy with how I looked. Then I went to camp, as a camp cook. And something about cooking for hours every day did something to my appetite. Also, the camp was on a beautiful river, and way out in the wilderness, so I could indulge my joint loves of swimming and walking in nature. Decreased food, and increased activity led to a smaller me.

And, except for my four pregnancies, I have stayed within the same 10 pound range for the past 13 plus years. But it takes work, you know. Especially since my other loves are cooking and  eating. I love food. I love GOOD food. I love food! (did I say that already?=)) The deliciousness, the saltiness, the sweetness, the textures, the look, the smell. I sigh over food. Hmmm...I would seriously be over 300 pounds if I didn't exercise. A Biggest Loser candidate for sure.

Exercise is necessary for maintaining a figure I am content with. It may not be as slim as the next girl's, but it is mine. Baby belly, buxomness, and all-including muscles.=) Exercise is good for many reasons. It's Biblical.

Proverbs 31 talks about the virtuous woman strengthening her arms. Okay, I admit that King Lemuel's mom probably wasn't picturing exercise when she was telling him about the virtuous women. But women had to be strong. They had to lift water buckets, and churn butter, and grind their wheat etc..For a modern women, strengthening arms can be done in multiple ways-like lifting weights or kneading bread or carrying babies.

Life for women includes kneading bread and carrying babies. Lifting weights helps you do these two things better. (and the reverse is true also-babies and bread help with weight lifting=)) Paul says that bodily exercise profits little. I've heard many people quote this verse. Incorrectly. Paul acknowledges that there are benefits to exercise. But in the eternal scheme of things, it isn't the most important thing.

Does that mean exercise should never happen? I don't think that was Paul's point.

Exercise gets endorphins flowing. Endorphins are natural, healthy chemicals flowing in your body that produce a sense of well being. A high, if you wish. Endorphins are good things. The more they are flowing, the less you feel stressed out, the more your ability to resist cravings is increased and the more control your body has over persistent pain.

Here is the cool thing about exercising...not only does it burn calories, the endorphins exercise produces decreases your cravings for food that aren't good for you. Its a win-win situation. Your energy also greatly increases as you exercise. You sleep well because you are a good tired. You wake refreshed, with energy to go about life.

Exercise gives a wonderful sense of accomplishment. You have set yourself a goal, and you did it! Your muscles may be aching, but you feel good. This confidence carries over into other aspects of life. If you run a mile (or walk, or swim, or bike, or whatever), you believe you can succeed at something else you didn't think you could do. Like painting. Or sewing. Or whatever.

Exercise is good for your health. Studies have shown over and over again, that just minutes of daily exercise increase your life span, and your life quality.

Is exercise fun? The actual being outside on a frigid day, with snow and wind blowing in your face, slogging through inches of snow? The getting up out of a nice, warm, comfortable bed at 4:30 to swim? Nope. Its not fun. It is HARD WORK. It takes discipline. It takes commitment. It takes forgiveness-forgiving yourself. So, you missed your exercise yesterday, or all last week, or for the past year, or your entire life. Get up, and start new from today.
I love this. And I love my Spandex.=)
Here's some practical thoughts.
1. Exercise is a life style. I think whatever form of exercise you pick needs to be sustainable. It has to be something you could do for the rest of your life. Because if your hope is to lose weight and the KEEP it off, you have to be engaged in something for the long term. Not just for today. This gives you freedom and grace for the days or weeks that you miss. If fitting in a workout is your life style, then missing a day or week, or months, is part of life. You just pick up and try again.

2. Exercise is a journey. Life changes. Obstacles change. When you have 4 kids, like me, or 6-like other friends of mine, or even just one child, there are other people you have to think about. Balancing naps and sitters, and meals, and LIFE. This means that your exercise forms are going to go through journeys too. Maybe your exercise will be taking a family walk. Or pushing a stroller and jogging while your other kids bike. Or maybe it means getting up a little earlier, or staying up a little later to get it in. I understand the whole sleep thing. In order to make exercise work for me, I get up at an ungodly hour. But I still need sleep, so I go to bed usually by 9:30. At the latest. And I turn off my alarm on too many occasions. When I feel that the energy gained by getting up, will not be offset by the sleep lost, I sleep. Which leads to a third point.

3. Men-husbands, boyfriends...what can you do to encourage your wife/girlfriend? Love us whatever shape we are in. No snarky comments. That is BIG. But the second most encouraging thing you can do is watch the kids, so we can exercise. Offer to watch them for an hour in the morning, late afternoon, or your wife can go off to the gym, or for a walk. It is really hard to exercise distracted by children's questions or needs or wants. And encourage, but don't nag. "Did you exercise today?" is probably not the best question. It produces guilt if we haven't. Offering to watch the kids is a much better approach. And, seriously, lay off with the, "I'm still the same size I was when we got married, and I can eat like a horse." We know. And its irritating. AND-your time is coming.=)

4. Exercise should be an activity you enjoy. If you don't like running, or at least the runner's high, you won't continue it. In the past, when I have been discouraged about my swimming times, my bff has reminded me that I enjoy swimming. Then the next time I go, I remember that, and forget the clock. And then things click. So, pick something you enjoy. Walking, sledding, skiing, swimming, ice skating.
Like I said, I am a huge proponent of women's fitness. I think it equips us to live the rest of our lives better. It doesn't mean we will all be Jillian Michaels or Jane Fondas. We can exercise with the goal of being strong, healthy, and happier, not the goal of being Barbie dolls. That isn't realistic, or encouraging or practical. I am not writing this so everyone will be like me, or do what I do. I have been thinking about this since Saturday at the wedding we attended. I visited with a young mom who used to be a runner, and is trying to get back into it after having her first baby. I will tell you what I told her.
"I am not saying you HAVE to exercise. But nor am I going to discourage you if you try. Don't over do it, because we moms and wives can't afford to be injured. But you CAN do it! You will be pumped if you do! And I will be your cheerleader!" I think each of us face enough excuses and nay-saying on our own.  We are fighting guilt over our figure, and nigglings that we are being selfish for taking this time for ourselves. So, if someone wants to exercise, let's be their bleacher section.
If this rather long post hasn't convinced you of the benefits of exercising, that's okay.=) My feelings are not hurt. But, you now know that if you ever want some encouragement about exercise, I'm here. I'm not the best of the best at any of my activities. I give time to my exercise, but my time is a very small chunk compared to many others. I have made my exercise my life style. And it is what it is. I think the only thing I really have going for me is my determination.
Maybe someday. Or not.=)
Here's to a different application of Proverbs 31, ladies!