Faith & Exercise = Essential, Not Optional

My faith is the number one most important aspect of my life.  My loved ones would come second, but right after that is exercise.  My fiance would likely say the same thing regarding his own life.

Many people I encounter cannot understand that about us.  When I complain about my busy week, they don’t understand why I still make time for holy hour on Monday night, FCA on Wednesday morning at work, Bible study on Thursday night, Mass on Sunday, and additional time spent in prayer.  I mean, that’s over four hours of my week, after all.

Others who do understand my faith cannot understand my workout regimen.  If I’m having a busy week, I should just skip the gym, shouldn’t I?  I don’t need to bother with that run.  I look like I’m in decent shape.  What’s one missed day?

Although it’s true that one missed day at the gym won’t kill me, I believe it’s that exact mindset that has led to the obesity epidemic.

We’re all busy.  We have jobs, families, and unexpected emergencies.  We must go grocery shopping, cook meals, eat, work, clean, and sleep.  If I let my workout be an optional activity that only occurred when I had extra time, it would NEVER happen.

I always have more items on my to-do list.  There is always something more that can be done.  That is why my workout, just like my faith life, is not optional.  Rather, they are both entirely necessary.

So I’ll start with faith since that’s number one.

#1: Faith

My goal is simple: get to Heaven.  That’s it.  That’s why I’m on this earth.  I want to live the best possible life that I can while I am here, and yes, I want the joys that life entails, but ultimately, everything is meaningless if I do not get to spend eternity with Jesus Christ in Heaven.

Do I always act like that is my top goal?  No.  Just like anyone else, I sin, I fall, I get overwhelmed by this life. There are many times when I focus my eyes on happiness, success, my career, and other false idols, but I get back up and try my best to refocus my eyes on the true prize: eternity.

If I place anything on a pedestal ahead of God, then I am telling Him that I want that item/person/feeling/accolade/job more than I want Him.  If I fight for a promotion with every minute of my time, then I am telling the Lord that the job is more significant than Him.  If I love my fiance more than I love God, then I am worshipping him rather than God.  God has to remain first.

And if I really think about the amount of hours I spend in prayer, it isn’t nearly enough.  To the world, it looks like a lot.  A whole hour at Mass on Sunday? And then another hour at adoration on Monday? Bible study every week?  How do I do it?

Let’s be clear here: I’m no saint.  Compared to the world, yes, maybe that’s more than the average person.  But if God is number one, then does one hour a few times a week really suffice?  Absolutely not.

I don’t always follow these ideals.  Sometimes my hectic life gets the best of me.  Planning my wedding this year has been a trying task.  When I went to confession a few months back, though, the priest gave me great advice: make each of my tasks into a prayer.  I can’t stop planning my wedding.  Sure, there are certain items that must be crossed of the list; however, I can take my frustration and offer it as a prayer instead of a complaint.

We should strive to live a life in which every mundane task becomes a prayer.  Stuck in traffic?  Pray.  Offer it up.  Getting out of bed in the morning?  Thank God for a new day.  Annoyed by someone at work? Pray for that person. Going to bed?  Thank Him for the day, even if it was a difficult one.  Now, I haven’t perfected this myself, but I’m working on it.

Too many Catholics squeeze in Mass only when it fits.  Sports and football have become their gods.  Football game?  Sorry, gotta skip church.  Son has baseball practice?  Oh well, no time for church.  Went to a wedding Saturday night and slept in on Sunday?  Oops, too bad, need my sleep.

Maybe you didn’t realize, but there are so many Catholic masses that there isn’t an excuse to miss it.  I can go to Mass on Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday midday, or Sunday evening.  There is even a church in my area that offers Mass at 7:30pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Others have Mass at 6:45am on Sunday.  So no, that football game isn’t an excuse.  You’re just being too lazy to get to the Mass that takes place first thing in the morning.

If Heaven is my goal, then God must be first, not an afterthought.

Which brings me to my next priority: exercise.

#2: Exercise

My mom’s side of the family is not too keen on exercise.  Luckily, I think I inherited some of the genes from my dad’s side of the family.  Exercise is a huge part of my life.

Now, this wasn’t always the case.  I never played a team sport.  I wasn’t ever overweight, probably because I don’t have the biggest appetite in the world, but I definitely wasn’t very athletic.  I was active, but I never had much of a routine other than following along to some pilates videos after school.  I mainly just wanted to grow (I heard that pilates can help to lengthen your spine, and I was 5’1.5″ at the time) and I wanted abs.  When I was younger and visited my dad on the weekends, we would bike and rollerblade, so I wasn’t that kid who was always in front of the television, but I wasn’t as active as all of the kids on sports teams.

Then everything changed after I got Lyme disease.  Suddenly, I had a hard time just walking across campus during my sophomore year of college.  All I wanted to do was run, so I decided that if I ever got better, I would start running.

That’s what I did; I started running, little by little.

And then I relapsed.  But once I started regaining my health, I began running again.

Initially, I’ll admit, the running was for aesthetic reasons.  I did not like what the Lyme medicine had done to my body.  I had never worried about my weight, but Mepron, the last antibiotic I took, was not water soluble; it only dissolved in fat.  I had to take it twice a day, both times with about 20 grams of fat.

Not only was I sick and unable to work out, but I had to take my medicine with fat.  I didn’t gain more than about 10-12 pounds, but on a 5’2″ frame (I guess the pilates worked for that last half inch), that is quite a lot.  Just looking at my face, the difference was apparent.

Here is the progression of my face:

Fall 2007 (pre-Lyme), freshman year of college:

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Summer 2010, after college; had been battling Lyme for about 3 years:

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Summer 2013, after I had been running regularly:

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Did I start exercising for the health benefits?  No.  I just wanted my smaller body back.  But the more I ran, the better I felt.  It seemed ironic because when I was sick with Lyme, my back and knees would ache like crazy.  Running didn’t seem like it would be the best exercise for me, but the more I ran, the less my knees hurt.

I signed up for my first ever race: a half marathon.  Then a full marathon.  Then I just kept running and racing in either running races or Spartan obstacle races and a Tough Mudder.

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Hartford Marathon – 2013
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Atlantic City Marathon – 2016

Now, it hasn’t been easy.  I’ve relapsed since then.  I didn’t get to run any races at all during 2015, but I’ve found a direct correlation between eating healthy, exercising, and the disappearance of my Lyme symptoms.

If I get too busy to work out, I start to notice back pain.  My workout is therefore not an extra part of my life; rather, it is essential to maintain healthy functioning and keep the Lyme at bay.

Sometimes the people around my fiance and I cannot understand why we are so regimented with our workouts (him even more than me).  Although he doesn’t have a chronic disease, he values his workouts just as much as I do, if not more.

I just wish that more people could understand that our bodies weren’t meant to sit on the couch for hours on end, watching Netflix.  My students cannot fathom this.  How can I not have a television?  Or a Netflix subscription?  Or a video game console?What do I do in my free time?  Well, I don’t have that much free time because of my devotion to God and my ability to prioritize my exercise.

My fiance works insane hours, yet he still wakes up every day to do two things: go to Mass and go to the gym.  These are not options for him, but requirements to a fulfilled life.

So many people say they cannot find the time for exercise.  I understand that.  The problem is that you will never find the time.  Rather, you must make the time.

I work a full time job.  I have an apartment.  I cook my meals, clean, do my laundry.  I spend lots of time grading papers since I’m a high school English teacher.  I know that I have fewer tasks than others since I’m not yet married and I don’t have children, but it’s not like I have tons of free time.  I have to keep my workouts as part of my schedule.

When I’m training for a marathon, the schedule is easy.  I need to get that weekend long run in no matter what.  Whether that is 8 miles, 13 miles, or 20 miles, I have to find the time.  I plan around it since those long runs are crucial to success on race day.  I do speed work on Wednesdays.  Again, a crucial step if I want to beat my previous times.  I have other runs built around those two days, plus cross training, strength training, stretching, and yoga because I want to be my best.

The same is true with my faith life.  My Sundays are planned around the Mass I will be attending.  Thursdays are planned around Bible study.  These are not added bonuses that only occur if I find the time.

Right now I’m not training for anything, so it’s easier to skip workouts on busy days.  Does that happen occasionally?  Sure.  Life happens.  But most weekdays, you will find me at the gym after work.  Or, if the weather is nice, I can be found running on the boardwalk, at the reservoir, or working out outside.  That’s my schedule.  That’s what I do to keep myself sane, happy, healthy, and Lyme-free.

Watching the video below is actually what prompted me to write this blog.  It’s about the benefits of exercise on our brain.  So if you have no other reason to make exercise a part of your routine, do it for your brain and to prevent or delay dementia and Alzheimer’s.

 

Now I know that people will probably continue be baffled by me for keeping my faith as my exercise priorities, but I just don’t care.  They can view me as insane.  That’s fine.

All I know is that at the end of the day, my faith and my exercise are what I need for a fulfilled, healthy life.

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