Over the past couple of decades, I have come to learn that regular activity is not only a key to being physically and psychologically healthy, but also more socially and spiritually engaged. As a married father of 8, a child psychologist, and someone who has demands coming from all fronts, there is no doubt that regular movement is indispensable for many reasons. As I often tell people when asked if I have races coming up, I am first and foremost training for life.
Having been blessed with 40,000+ motorless miles on the road, an Ironman, multiple ultramarathons, and a number of other endurance opportunities, many people might wrongly believe that I go about the daily exercise with little or no resistance. But actually, just like anyone else, I regularly feel the pull to just relax and even be lazy, which sometimes is quite important in keeping healthy and sane. Finding the right balance of physical exercise or any type of work along with rest is always a work in progress.
Yet I regard my daily activity as a covenant with God, not simply a commitment or desire to be healthy. It’s a covenant because God created our bodies in His image and likeness, and a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, honors this design. Furthermore, while commitments are bound by obligation, which often leaves us begrudging what “we should do”, covenants are bound by love, which leaves us desiring “what we are called to do” in uniting with Him.
Still, even with this mindset, barriers of a secular nature do exist, and any attempt to develop a healthy lifestyle must encounter and address them. But many times, there is one more level of resistance that undermines our ability to move as God intends. It is at the intrapersonal level, or what we might call that pesky internal voice, which can keep us from the activity that we need.
This past Wednesday, I was getting ready to head home from work for what can be a quite packed 14 hours, given the intricacies of my exercise cycle, work, and family life. I thought maybe it might be worth taking you “along for the ride” for what the last two decades has taught me when it comes to encountering first and foremost, the barrier of an internal kind. As you will notice below, I am constantly using self-talk, prayer, observation, interaction and other methods to address various types of resistance that comes regularly. Resistance to sustaining exercise comes in many forms, such as loneliness, boredom, injury, fears, strain of activity, and the like. Highlighted below is a brief example of how I address these issues prior and during activity. Note: My self-talk is in bold/quotes.
Wednesday afternoon: 5:15 PM [I take off on my bike from work– I commute this way most days as part of a 13 mile round trip.] “What a beautiful afternoon day— hmm, there is a decent headwind. Thanks, God, for the tailwind this morning and yesterday afternoon, and the dry road.” [Tuesday was a rainy ride.] “The fall colors are beautiful — love the bright oranges & reds.” “Seventeen little segments to get home, into the wind.” [I mentally like to break my rides into segments, which changeover each turn.] “Oh, people I haven’t seen before walking through Oak Hill Cemetery – what a nice night for a walk!” [I wave at them as I pass by.] “Thanks, God, for the new pavement laid down over the potholes” [on a bridge about a mile from my house.] “I love this last big hill even though it’s hard; it feels good to breathe deeply.” [I arrive home.] “Thanks, God, for a safe ride.”
Wednesday evening: 6:25 PM [Dinner has just ended with (some) of the family. Every Wednesday for the past 15 years, Amy and I have done a weight lifting regiment, and I head to the basement for this.] “Kind of not feeling it, would love to just be done and relaxing, but this one is dedicated to you Joann.” [Joann is a dear friend of ours that just passed from colon cancer.] “Feeling a little tired, but it is just one lift at a time – I can do that – and it will be done.” “Thanks, God, for the opportunity to be able to do this.” [I’ve been slowly adding more weight, as is recommended after age 40, due to a natural loss of muscle mass]. “Hmm, that is definitely harder but feels good. Take it slowly between the leg press and calf raises. It’s nice to just be in silence doing something simple after a busy day – each set of exercises is my prayer to You. Thanks for the feeling of my muscles working.” [Lifting is done, on to the 20 minute of chores with my kids and other work to do before I go to bed.] [As I begin washing dishes, partly for prayer and partly to quiet the arguing voices in our home, I begin a Rosary out loud.] “I believe in God the Father almighty….” [Rosary ends, work is done, time for bed.]
Thursday morning: 4:37 AM [Alarm goes off for an early swim and run. Outside temperature is 39.] “Thanks, Lord, for a good nights’ sleep. Cool morning for a swim, but after a few laps, I know it will warm up.” [Arrive at the swim facility.] “Great to see other cars this morning – the high school kids for the local swim team are out. Impressed they are willing to get up this early.” [Walk in doors, and see my “friend” at the front desk.] “Appreciate the smile and brief chats – it’s fun to see him.” [Arrive at pool deck, and see familiar local family training, and catch up for a few minutes before I hop in, while their daughter swims next to me.] “Wow, she is moving fast – cool that someone can actually swim at that speed. Feel a little tight this morning — will dedicate this to Dad.” [My father has had two hip surgeries and a triple bypass in the past two years.] “It will work out as always…time for breathing drills. Don’t like the feeling of less oxygen, but as always, Bob, these are for you.” [Bob is a dear friend who passed away years ago from a rare form of lung cancer.] “Neat that the new aquatic center is busy and I love being part of this early movement before the sun rises. Thanks, God, for the good swim.”
Thursday morning: 6:02 AM [My swim ended at 5:50 —changed into running clothes for a 22 minute run. I just stepped outside into the chilly darkness.] “It’s really nice my ‘friend’ will let me leave my bag next to the desk. Time to do a quick stretch – nice to just be standing outside in the quiet darkness. Oops, I forgot my gloves. Oh well, my hands will be fine for this short time — others have spent the whole night outdoors being cold.” [I take off on my run.] “Hail Mary, Full of Grace…Oh, there’s that familiar nerve on my left side.” [This pain has come and gone for more than ten years.] “Today is not about pace or distance but rather stride technique. Just take it easy and focus on running lightly. Just enjoy moving.” [I head through Garvin Park onto a side road.] “Let’s go this way back onto the trail – this is a route I haven’t taken for a while. Curious to see. Hail Mary, full of grace…” [I head down Heidelbach Avenue toward the park.] “I bet I have about 10 more minutes to go…let’s go down to the stop sign and loop around.” [I wear a watch, but like to avoid looking at it until necessary.] “There’s a guy hanging out [so I tell him], “Hope you have a good day.” [he says the same in reply.] “Did I just hear him say, “You can do it? Hmm, not sure, but I’ll take the encouragement anytime. Always enjoy talking with others I see on the street. Okay, I must be close to being done — great to feel the cool, crisp air.” [20:50 has elapsed on my watch.] “Another minute to go. Almost through the busy period starting last night. It always feels good to be done. It’s neat how even when it’s really busy, there are a lot of things to enjoy and it goes by quickly!” [When my watch reaches 22:00,I start walking – as always at the end of a run, I point to the sky and three times each, clap and touch my head, mouth, heart, hamstrings, and calves in thanks and unity with God.]
“Love you, Lord.” Love you, too. In the end, like many aspects of our lives, it is critical that we engage the various voices and deterrents to what we know is good and life-giving. The reality is that while most of us know regular activity is important, this understanding alone isn’t enough to sustain regular movement. As is stated in Psalms 119:32, I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.” So we must, too.