Sweating It Out

Adding fitness to your life for better ministry

As pastors, we spend plenty of time encouraging people to embrace life wholly — to reach their utmost spiritual, emotional and physiological potentials. Yet we often fail to encourage ourselves to do the same.

Exercise and proper nutrition are key for healthy balance, but they often fall by the wayside amid the urgent and the simply routine. We grab junk food on the run. We induce caffeine highs in order to grind out a few more hours. And we're likely to blow off working out because some other pastor-as-chaplain duty takes precedence.

But consider the facts: When you eat and exercise well, you think well. Taking care of your body lifts your spirit. Prayer is enhanced. Bible study yields deeper insights. Health begets health at all levels. It even begins to chip away at the guilt that admonishes you for "daring" to take time for yourself. Stress melts into sweat, and having more energy just feels good!

Making Working Out Work

I am thankful that my wife, Jenna, is as passionate about fitness as I am, and we've come up with a workout schedule that works for us.

The alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. and, after eating a small breakfast, one of us heads to the gym for cardio and weight training. The other stays home to have devotions, read the newspaper and wait until our toddler wakes up. When the gym-goer returns home, the other goes to work out.

This routine typically gets me to the church office by 10 a.m., and I work until 6 p.m. or so. I feel good knowing my day began with God and a good workout. It also helps me to be more productive and excited about my ministry responsibilities for that day.

Running on empty

A car with a gas gauge on "E" is difficult to start, sputters when it does and quickly stalls. So is a body with an empty stomach at the start of the day. Your mother was right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It sets the pace for your metabolism and produces energy. Eating five or six small meals throughout the day, a couple of hours apart, helps keep energy levels consistent and prevents binging at mealtimes.

Be mindful of the proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats you consume. Experts agree that, unless your physician has otherwise instructed you, 40 to 45 percent carbohydrates, 25 to 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat is a good combination for most adults. And yes, you need all three. The strategy of skipping certain meals for weight loss or following a diet that omits one of these basics is as fictional as the Scripture, "God helps those who help themselves."

Of weights and measures

If a gym membership is not in your budget, a barbell and dumbbell set for your home might be a better alternative. As for cardiovascular training, running isn't your only option if, like me, you hate it and it hurts your shins. Brisk walking, bike riding and swimming are also great activities. Recent government recommendations suggest 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day.

Are there going to be times when your workout routine gets blown apart by emergencies, holidays and the like? Of course. But these times should be the exception. After all, self-care is the engine that drives care for others.

Don't sacrifice your health for the sake of working extra hard for God. He doesn't need your help, but He does want you to be wholly available to Him.

Article copyright © 2003, John M. De Marco.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

John M. De Marco and his wife, Jenna make exercise a regular part of their ministry lives in West Palm Beach, Fla.